TRENTON — New Jersey on Friday became the 34th state in the nation to mandate ignition interlock devices for all drunk-driving offenders, including those convicted for the first time.

The devices require that a driver blow a sober breath sample before the car turns on.

While the law might seem like a crack-down, it actually loosens penalties and suspensions in an effort to allow offenders to be able to drive to work and get on with their lives.

Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday called the legislation "common sense."

“We must deter drunk driving without negatively impacting individuals’ ability to take care of themselves or their families," he said after signing the measure into law. "License suspensions are an imperfect tool for accomplishing both aims, as they do not stop drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel and they can prevent ex-offenders from supporting their livelihoods. In contrast, ignition interlock devices prevent drunk driving while allowing ex-offenders to support themselves and their families.”

The law requires that first-time offenders install ignition interlock devices, which they will have to pay for.

Subsequent suspensions will be based on the severity of the offenses.

Previous law required the the locks for repeat offenders and those who had a blood-alcohol content of 0.15% or greater.

The new law applies to first-time offenders and those with the legal minimum BAC of 0.08%. The law also applies to people who refuse to submit to a breath test after being pulled over.

For first-time offenders with BAC of 0.08 to 0.10%, the ignition interlock will have to be used for six months following the license suspension of 30 days (previously three months).

For offenders with a BAC of 0.10 to 0.15%, the device must be used for six months to a year following a license suspension of 45 days (previously seven months to a year).

For offenders with a BAC higher than 0.15%, the device must be used for one year to 18 months after the license suspension of 90 days.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving President Helen Witty said the law was "the most significant DWI reform in New Jersey in nearly a decade."

Steven Benvenisti, a lawyer with the firm Davis, Saperstein & Salomon and longtime MADD New Jersey member who campaigned for the legislation, said the law will help save lives.

“I was nearly killed by a drunk driver during my senior year at The College of New Jersey, and I know the anguish this violent, preventable crime inflicts on survivors and family members,” Benvenisti said. “In 2018, ignition interlocks kept 13,500 drunk drivers off our roads. Now this lifesaving technology will be used to its fullest potential.”

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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