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It goes without saying that people convicted of drunken driving should have restrictions that will keep their hands off the wheel, at least for whatever set time determined by a judge.
This is exactly what the state’s “Leandra’s Law,” officially called the Child Passenger Protection Act, was intended to do when it was passed a couple of years ago. But like many pieces of well-intended legislation, the law left loopholes big enough to drive through.
News staff reporter Matt Spina’s Oct. 13 piece, “Convicted drivers skirting the ignition interlock law,” clearly showed how some drivers failed to install the devices ordered by courts, or tricked the device by having a friend blow into it, allowing the car to start.
Closing this loophole will be difficult but not impossible. Lawmakers should consider the measure by State Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo Jr., a Long Island Republican, which passed the Senate. Fuschillo’s measure requires, among other things, offenders who do not install the interlock to instead wear a “transdermal, alcohol monitoring device,” such as an ankle bracelet. The Democratic-controlled Assembly has, remarkably, not taken up the bill. It should. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, to his credit, has also recently instructed the Department of Motor Vehicles to toughen rules against repeat drunken drivers.
The idea is to keep people from driving drunk and, to some extent, the interlock device has worked. It just hasn’t worked in such a way that would keep the worst offenders from gaining access to vehicles.
As Spina reported, some 23,000 around the state, including 1,300 in Erie County and more than 200 in Niagara County, have not installed the device despite a court order. Convicted drivers would take their cars off the road, rather than pay hundreds of dollars for the interlock device, plus monthly fees.
With the typical court requirement for the interlock of six months, they figure why bother? And if they do choose to bother, they can get a sober buddy to help them start the car. If that doesn’t work, they just borrow someone else’s vehicle.
John F. Sullivan, project coordinator for the Erie County STOP DWI program, which monitors hundreds of drivers ordered to install an interlock, makes a good point that if people don’t drive at all, then there isn’t a problem. But in fact many offenders are still driving, and “then they are just breaking the law.” Any subsequent arrests are probably just the tip of the iceberg for people who are unable to control their drinking.
Conscientious citizens who realize that they have a problem should consider getting an interlock device on their own.
They would only have to pay the installation fee if there is no court-ordered monthly monitoring. Some parents already install the device on cars driven by teenagers. Voluntarily installing the device could be considered insurance against the roughly $10,000 for a DWI conviction.
The ignition interlock is a flawed deterrent. But that shouldn’t stop the Legislature from pursuing stronger measures to keep drunken drivers off the road.