I now live in a state in which ignition interlocks will be mandatory for all convicted DWI offenses, regardless of BAC level or whether it's a first-time or repeat offense. New York's ignition interlock law goes into effect on Aug. 15, but the legislators in Suffolk County, where I live, are grappling with how to pay for enforcement, which will fall largely on the shoulder of probation departments. The legislation is part of Leandra's Law, a measure passed in November 2009 that makes it a felony offense to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol with a child in the car. The ignition interlock element is part two of the law's implementation, and the American Beverage Institute estimates a $19 million price tag, based on the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) projection of $3 per day to monitor each offender for a minimum of six months. A few upstate counties are asking that the bill's implementation be delayed until the question of how to cover the costs is addressed.
The report about the soon-to-be-implemented law made front-page news in our
local paper and prompted a lot of discussion, primarily because most people had no idea what ignition interlock is and how it works. Drunk driving has made headlines too frequently here in New York in the past year -- I imagine people around the country are aware of the crash on the Taconic Parkway last year that resulted in eight fatalities, including four children and Newsday reports there are 25,000 drunk driving convictions annually in New York. Apparently, we New Yorkers need to better understand the concept of drinking responsibly and driving responsibly.
Reactions to the front-page article about the interlock law, in the form of comments on the paper's website, ranged from outrage that it hadn't been enacted sooner to concern that the move was motivated by the companies that will benefit financially from installing the devices. Others pointed out that the drunk driver will just find ways around the device, such as driving a friend's car. Some urged a look at the big picture, saying interlock devices won't solve drunk driving, only education will, and that the devices will further squash economic development in the area by hurting bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Opinions were as diverse as the Empire State's population, but all were pretty passionate.
What was missing was the New York bar, nightclub and restaurant operator's voice, and I'm not sure it's been heard very much on this issue. Granted, the legislation was pushed through in two days last fall, with no opportunity for committee hearings, so the licensee's input was neither sought out nor able to be heard over the whoosh of the legislative process. But I want to hear from you now. New York bar, restaurant and nightclub operators, e-mail me at [email protected] and let me know how you think this will affect your business and also how you think this will affect drunk driving in our state. You're on the front lines -- your opinion matters!