A new program will go into effect on Aug. 15 in New York that requires anyone convicted of drunken driving to install a device in their cars that will determine whether they are sober before the vehicle will start. Roughly 25,000 people statewide are convicted each year on charges of drunken driving.
Under the new program, which was adopted as a part of "Leandra's Law," anyone convicted of driving while intoxicated must have the devices installed at their own expense and once a month report to a location where the data recorded by the machine can be analyzed to determine how often the driver exceeded blood alcohol limits.
With the device, known as an ignition interlock breathalyzer, installed, the drivers will have to pass a test to show they have less than one drink in their system before the car will start, and they must use a Breathalyzer at regular intervals to prove they are not drinking and driving.
The devices will not permit a car to start if the driver registers a blood alcohol level of .025 percent or higher. Drivers face criminal charges if their blood alcohol reading exceeds .08 percent.
Despite the many opportunities for a finding of non-compliance, Robert Maccarone, the director of the New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, said in an interview Thursday he does not anticipate a large number of convicted motorists to be returned to court for violations of conditions imposed at the time of their sentencing.
Read the Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives' plan for implementing the devices.
Maccarone cited national studies that show in other states with similar programs less than 8 percent of convicted drivers failed to comply with conditions imposed by judges. Nine other states require drivers convicted of alcohol-related offenses to use an ignition interlock breathalyzer.
Maccarone, however, added that judges will have to scrutinize convicted drivers' financial records to determine if they are eligible to have the cost of the alcohol detection devices waived.
Judge Judy Harris Kluger, chief of policy and planning for the court system, said that the courts are "well prepared" to meet the Aug. 15 startup date. About 1,000 village and town court justices and employees of those courts have been trained on implementing the new law, she said. A similar program will be conducted through the Internet for all 1,300 state-funded judges on Aug. 3.
Kluger recognized that judges will have an "additional responsibility" in analyzing detailed financial statements from defendants to determine if they are eligible for a fee waiver, but added that the courts will not know the impact for several months.
About 4,000 of the annual drunken driving convictions in the state occur in New York City. David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the court system said, no statistics are readily available to determine how many driving while intoxicated cases are pending statewide. Acting Justice Barry Kamins, the administrative judge in charge of criminal cases in Brooklyn, said about 2,000 DWI cases are pending in that county.
Motorists convicted of drunken driving charges will have to pay up to $100 to have the devices installed and a monthly fee of between $70 and $100 depending upon which model and which installer they use. The seven manufacturers approved by the Department of Probation, will bear the cost of providing the devices to convicted motorists who are unable to pay for them.
In any case where a motorist is convicted of driving while under the influence, judges must require the defendant use the device for at least six months. The requirement can be imposed with a conditional discharge, most likely in the case of first offenders, or as a condition of probation.
Currently, probation is required in about 9,000 of the 25,000 drunken driving cases, with several hundred jailed and the balance fined, Maccarone said. He added that he did not expect that figure to change after Aug. 15.
Defendants who go to sentence would be required to install the devices once they have served their terms.
In New York City, the Probation Department will monitor the compliance of motorists sentenced to probation while the Queens District Attorney's Office will be responsible for monitoring compliance by persons sentenced to conditional discharges.
Kevin Ryan, a spokesman for the Queens District Attorney' Office, estimated that it will cost $100,000 a year to take on the monitoring responsibilities.
Rocco A. Pozzi, the commissioner of probation in Westchester County, said that the program imposes a new mandate on counties insofar as it subjects persons sentenced to conditional discharges to monitoring. That responsibility could add up to as much as $500,000 annually to his agency's budget, he said.
Maccarone said that the state has applied for a $3 million grant from federal funds distributed by the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee to help localities defray the costs of administering the program. He said he is hopeful the grant will be approved and distributed in October.
The seven manufacturers must contract with enough installers -- retailers of electronics and security systems -- so that no convicted motorist will have to travel more than 50 miles to have the device installed or to attend monthly compliance checkups.
Each of the manufacturers produces devices at varying levels of sophistication. In addition to the basic model, some have cameras to record who is taking the breathalyzer test and others have global positioning systems.
The requirement for the interlock ignition devices was enacted as a part of Leandra's law, which was adopted in response to the October 2009 death of Leandra Rosado, 11, who was thrown from a car being driven by a drunken driver.
The first provision of the law to go into effect bumped up charges for driving while intoxicated with a child 15 or younger as a passenger to a felony from a misdemeanor. That provision went into effect on Nov. 18, 2009, the date Governor David A. Paterson signed the law.
To date, 311 persons have faced felony charges as a result of the change, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. Misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum of one year in prison. As a Class E felony, driving drunk with a child in the car is punishable by a sentence of 1 1/3-to-4 years in prison.
Approximately, 5,000 of the 25,000 DWI convictions statewide have been felonies in past years.