🚗 Under a new NJ law, drunk drivers can get rewarded for being proactive

🚗 Fines can be waived, and suspensions can be lessened

🚗 The law is set to expire after five years

New Jersey residents who are caught driving drunk will soon have the option for some relief during the legal process, if they're willing to take a big step before their punishment is even handed down.

A law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in January tweaks the rules related to the installation of ignition interlock devices, which only allow a vehicle to start after the driver has passed a breathalyzer test.

With the new law, which takes effect in late February, individuals charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol can save big bucks by installing an interlock device before their conviction.

A fine of $250 to $500 for a first offense would be waived if the driver gets the device installed on their primary vehicle before conviction and secures a special license from the Motor Vehicle Commission. A fine of $500 to $1,000 would be waived for a second offense, and a fine of $1,000 would be waived for third and subsequent offenses.

Leon Matchin, a defense attorney in Milltown, said the new law specifically applies to drunk-driving offenses, not cases involving driving while high on drugs.

"And it doesn't apply to accident cases that involve serious bodily injury," Matchin said.

In cases that involve a suspended license due to more extreme blood alcohol concentration, a driver can shave time off of that suspension with early installation of the device.

For every two days that an offender has an interlock device installed in their vehicle prior to conviction, one day would be removed from their suspension period, Matchin said.

"If there's a three-month suspension ... and if you have the interlock installed for six months prior to sentencing or conviction, then theoretically you can continue to drive without suspension at sentencing," Matchin said.

The new law is set to expire at the beginning of 2029. Before then, it's anticipated that lawmakers will look at if or how the law benefited the public.

Matchin describes the law as "good for the public" — ideally, it'll convince offenders to install the safety device sooner than they would have before the law was signed.

Since December 2019, installation of an interlock device has been mandatory in New Jersey for anyone convicted of DUI.

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