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New Penalties in NJ for Drunk Drivers Start Now

6 minute read

As of December 1, New Jersey rolled out new drunk driving laws to curb the ongoing problem with fatal car accidents caused by drug and alcohol use. The holidays come with an increased risk of fatal car accidents, many of which will involve alcohol and drugs this time of year.

In fact, in 2018, 20 percent of all deadly crashes in New Jersey were caused by alcohol use. Over the past five years, almost 700 deaths across the state occurred due to alcohol-induced accidents.

New Drunk Driving Laws in New Jersey

License suspensions will no longer be instituted for most people who are first-time DUI offenders and have a BAC reading under 0.15 percent under new NJ regulations. With a blood alcohol content over 0.15 percent, first-time DUI offenders will lose their license for anywhere from four to six months.

All first time offenders convicted of a DUI, however, will be required to install an ignition interlock device in their car. This device measures blood alcohol content and requires the driver to blow into it before turning on the car. The car will work as usual as long as there is less than -0.05 percent BAC present in the person’s breath. If the device registers alcohol, however, the car will be immobilized.

Depending on the specifics of the case, once installed, the first-time DUI driver will have to keep the ignition lock in place on their car for anywhere from three months to a year. Should the DUI occur due to a BAC over 0.15 percent, the driver will be required to keep the ignition lock on their car for another 9 to 15 months.

For second-time offenders, the consequences intensify. Drivers will lose their licenses for as long as two years and will be required to maintain the interlock device on their car for anywhere from two to four years.

Serious Consequences for a Serious Problem

The idea behind the new laws is to motivate safer behavior. Many people believe that the changes were long in coming and a much-needed improvement to the system. If even one life is saved because a potential drunk driver’s car was rendered immobilized by a breathalyzer device on their ignition, it is worth it.

The changes to the license suspension laws are positive as well, even if at first they appear to be more lenient than they once were.

A license suspension often means that someone is unable to easily get to and from work. Without a job, it is harder to stay on track and work toward positive change. Rather, many convicted offenders struggle so much that they ultimately end up drinking more and have a harder time staying sober. Thus, the new laws that remove the license suspension for many first-time DUI offenders help to ensure that most will be able to continue to drive themselves to work without having to break the law and drive on a suspended license to do so.

With these changes, New Jersey becomes the 34th state to require that all convicted DUI offenders install interlock devices on their cars. The slowly growing movement is happening because these ignition locks work. New Jersey reports that just under 74,000 car startups by drivers with a BAC higher than 0.08 percent have been prevented.

The Goal Is Safety

The new laws are in effect just in time for the holiday season, one of the deadliest times of the year in terms of alcohol-related car accidents on the road.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, New Jersey experiences higher rates of road fatalities due to drunk and drugged driving than at any other time of the year. In fact, the death toll was slightly higher in 2018 compared to 2017.

It is hoped that the new laws will help to lower rates this year, saving lives and helping to reverse the trend.

Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over

Statewide, police are instituting a campaign to help get drunk drivers off the road before any damage can be done. Called Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over, there will be an increase in units on the street patrolling and actively looking for drunk drivers as well as an increase in sobriety checkpoints.

The goal is not to increase DUI arrests. State police have been advertising the campaign heavily for weeks to raise awareness with the hope of deterring people from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated in the first place.

How to Avoid a DUI This Holiday Season

If you live in New Jersey, new laws and increased police presence on the roads may be a powerful incentive to avoid DUI, but the fact is that good intentions are not enough to keep you safe this holiday season.

If you are planning on hitting the road to get to and from holiday celebrations, dinners, and parties this year, follow these tips to avoid becoming a New Year’s DUI statistic:

  • Designate a sober driver. Before you head out, make sure that the person driving is committed to staying sober for the entire evening — not having “just one beer” or “only smoking a little weed” early on. If the sober driver is you, commit to your sobriety for the entire evening to protect your own safety and make sure you are on high alert on the road.
  • Stay sober. Whether or not you are driving, you will increase your ability to make safe choices — like choosing a sober driver or ordering an Uber if you don’t have a designated driver — if you are not intoxicated.
  • Take advantage of free transportation options. Many areas in New Jersey will make public transportation free of charge while a number of local driving businesses will offer free rides to those who cannot drive themselves. Find out what the resources are local to you and make sure you have all the details readily accessible in your phone so they are easy to find when you need them.
  • Choose destinations that are close to home. If you want to mitigate the risk associated with drunk driving, you don’t have a sober driver, and you don’t think you’ll be able to stay sober, opt for a party that is accessible by walking, bike, or public transportation. If you opt to walk or ride a bike, remember that these activities can be just as dangerous on nights when people are out drinking, so take safety precautions as much as possible.
  • Throw your own holiday celebration. You won’t have to drive to or from if the party is at your house. Consider inviting people you care about to come over or host other holiday functions in order to stay off the road if you feel that you are at risk of DUI. If you have guests who overindulge while they are at your house, offer to let them crash on the couch. Don’t let any of them drink and drive or go home with someone who is intoxicated.

Do You Need Help to Celebrate the Season Safely?

If you already have a DUI or if you have a history of struggling with driving while intoxicated, it may not be so easy to stay safe on the road this holiday season. Unfortunately for some, a DUI arrest is not an isolated event but an indication that there is an ongoing substance use disorder. A diagnosable disease that comes with both physiological and behavioral effects, it is impossible to simply decide to reverse it.

Treatment is recommended, the nature of which should be dependent on your personal needs and circumstance.

How Do I Know if I Need Alcohol Rehab?

No two people are the same, and alcohol use disorders occur on a spectrum. Though a dozen people could be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder that requires treatment, they may all experience different symptoms, have different histories, and require a different style of or approach to treatment.

The following questions can help you to determine whether or not it’s time to start the discussion about which style of treatment might be right for you:

  • Do you frequently swear you’ll stick to one drink or avoid drinking entirely for an evening but find it impossible to follow through?
  • Do your friends and family express concern about your drinking?
  • Do you combine the use of alcohol with the use of other substances, including marijuana?
  • Do you frequently drink to excess, having more than two to three drinks in a two-hour period (binge drinking)?
  • Have you tried to stop drinking in the past but been unable to do so for any length of time?
  • Have you gotten a DUI? Or have you ever gotten behind the wheel after drinking or using other substances?
  • Have you attempted treatment in the past but been unsuccessful in staying sober?
  • Do you have health problems related to or exacerbated by drinking?

If you answered “yes,” to any of the above questions, it is time to consider your options in treatment. Learn more now.

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