A new driving while intoxicated (DWI) statute went into effect in the State of New Jersey on December 1, 2019.  The purposes of the changes to the prior statute are mainly focused on enforcing compliance in preventing convicted drivers from repeatedly driving under the influence and, further, to allow convicted drivers to maintain some semblance of normalcy in their lives.  The highlights of the statute will be outlined below.  It should be noted that these changes will automatically expire at the end of five years unless affirmatively renewed by New Jersey’s Legislature.

  The primary change to the DWI statute allows for the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) (a device that will prevent a motor vehicle from starting or being operated if the operator’s blood alcohol content exceeds a predetermined level when the operator blows into the device) for all first time DWI offenders.  The installation of such an IDD would be instead of requiring a mandatory suspension of an offender’s driving privileges for a period of time between three and 12 months which was dependent upon the offender’s blood alcohol content.  The time periods for which the IID must be installed in the offender’s vehicle will depend upon the offender’s blood alcohol level at the time he was arrested.  Importantly, the offender must pay for the installation of the IID upon his or her vehicle or vehicles and must pay the monthly fees associated with the maintenance of the same.

  In addition to changes to the statute for first time DWI offenders, statute also reduces the penalties for second and third time DWI offenders.  For a second DWI, the mandatory drivers’ license suspension was reduced from two years to a discretionary period of one to two years.  However, this would include the installation of an IID for a period of between two and four years after the person’s suspension is lifted.  For a third time offender, the mandatory drivers’ license suspension was reduced from a mandatory 10 year suspension under the old statute to a discretionary term of between eight years and 10 years also with the mandatory installation of an IID for between two and four years after the suspension is lifted.

  It would appear that the statute’s mandate of an IID on any vehicle or vehicles registered to the convicted driver was designed to prevent that person from operating their vehicle if they are under the influence of alcohol.  It was found that a percentage of individuals who were suspended for DWI continued to operate their vehicles while still suspended and, oftentimes, while driving under the influence.  The IID prevents a person from operating their vehicle while under the influence but also allows them to operate their vehicle in order to go back and forth to work, etc. when they are not under the influence.

  For those individuals who do not own or lease a vehicle, the statute requires a suspension of that individual’s driving privileges for the period of time equivalent to the time that an IID would have otherwise been installed.  In the event, such person purchases, leases, registers or identifies a vehicle which he or she will be principally operating, such person must immediately notify the court and install an IID on that vehicle.

  As with any new statute, there are many unknowns as to how the statute will be applied in the real world and how the courts will be interpreting the new language.  As such, it is important to contact an attorney well-versed in DWI law should you be charged with DWI.