New York Passes Toughest DWI Legislation in Nation

DWI with child passenger elevated to a felony, interlock devices mandated for all DWI offenses
November 18, 2009

Assemblyman Englebright (D-Setauket) announced the passage into law of legislation (Chapter 496 of 2009) that makes Driving While Intoxicated with a child passenger a felony, and mandates that every person convicted of a DWI in New York State have an ignition interlock installed as a condition of sentence.

“Children, unlike adults, rarely have the choice to refuse to get into a car with a drunken adult, especially if that person is a parent or guardian,” said Assemblyman Englebright. “Adults who choose to drive drunk with children in the car have made a decision to put those children at risk of harm or death.”

This new law addresses the gravity of this act by elevating to a felony the charge of operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .08, or impaired by drugs, with a child passenger who is 15 or under, punishable by up to four years in prison.

The new law also mandates that after a first misdemeanor or felony DWI conviction, an ignition interlock device must be installed in the offender’s car. Such devices prevent car ignition operation unless the driver demonstrates via breathalyzer that he or she is not under the influence of alcohol. The installation of such a device as a sanction for a DWI offense was previously left to the court’s discretion. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that repeat drunken driving offenses dropped 65 percent among those with interlock devices. If a convicted driver tries to bypass or tamper with the interlock, he or she would commit a crime.

Under the new law:

  • First time offenders driving while intoxicated (.08 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) or more) or impaired by drugs while a child of 15 years or younger is in the vehicle may be charged with a class E felony punishable by up to 4 years in State prison.
  • Individuals charged with driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or greater and with a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle would automatically have their license suspended pending prosecution.
  • Courts must order all drivers convicted of a misdemeanor or felony DWI to install and maintain an ignition interlock on any vehicle owned and operated by such driver for at least 6 months, in addition to any term imprisonment. The Department of Probation and Correctional Alternatives will issue regulations that will provide counties with different options for supervising the use of interlocks, so as to ensure that they can determine the most appropriate mechanism for their needs.
  • Drivers who drive while intoxicated or impaired by drugs and cause the death of a child younger than 16 in the car may be charged with a Class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in State prison.
  • Drivers who drive while intoxicated or impaired by drugs and cause serious physical injury to a child in the vehicle may be charged with the Class C felony, punishable by up to 15 years in State prison.
  • Individuals who are a parent, guardian, custodian or otherwise legally responsible for a child who are charged with driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs while that child is a passenger in the car would be reported to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment by the arresting agency.

In passing this legislation, New York joins 35 states that have special “child endangerment” laws to impose higher DWI sanctions against individuals who place a child passenger at risk. It joins twelve other states with across-the-board mandatory interlock laws.