Today’s news:

Stricter penalties for driving drunk

Assemblyman Peter Abbate announcedthe Assembly passage of legislation he sponsored which protects our children and every New Yorker by cracking down on all drunk drivers.

The legislation also imposes even more severe penalties on those who drive drunk with a child in the car (A.40008). The DWI law will be the toughest in the country.

“Drunk driving is an incredibly reckless and dangerous crime, made all the more senseless and heinous when a child’s life is on the line,” Assemblyman Abbate said. “This multi-pronged measure will make drunk drivers think twice before climbing behind the wheel with a child passenger, and harshly punish those who do so.”

The law comes on the heels of tragic car crashes that left 11 people dead, including seven children. In late July, a minivan traveling the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway collided with an SUV, killing four children, the intoxicated driver of the minivan and the three adults in the SUV. In mid-October, 11-year-old Leandra Rosado was killed when a car carrying her and six other children overturned on the Henry Hudson Parkway. Another crash in late October led to the deaths of 15-year-old Katherine Willis and 5-year-old Melissa Ehl-Mirra and the serious injury of three other children.

The new legislation creates the first-time felony of driving while intoxicated with a child passenger. The crime punishes drunk drivers with blood-alcohol contents of 0.08 or higher who have child passengers age 15 or younger, and carries with it a possible prison sentence of up to 1 1/3 to 4 years and fines as high as $5,000. The legislation also strengthens the existing crimes of first-degree vehicular assault (D felony), first-degree vehicular manslaughter (C felony), aggravated vehicular assault (C felony), and aggravated vehicular homicide (B felony).Under the bill, a person charged with the new first-time felony will be very limited in their ability to plea bargain. Moreover, arresting officers who stop drivers for the new crime must contact New York State Child Protective Services, where warranted, if the offending driver is the parent, guardian,or is otherwise legally responsible for the child passenger.

The bill also requires the installation of ignition interlock devices by those convicted of the new crime, any misdemeanor or felony DWI, and any DWI-related penal law felony. Ignition interlock devices %u2013 breathalyzers tied to a car’s ignition system %u2013 prevent drunk drivers from starting their vehicles. Under the bill, operating a vehicle without such a device, or bypassing or tampering with it, would constitute a class A misdemeanor.

According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, alcohol was responsible for 9,202 accidents and 381 fatalities in New York in 2008.The new law has the support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the New York State District Attorneys Association.

“The deadly decision to drive drunk is not one to be taken lightly,” Abbate said. “It’s a serious crime that destroys lives. This law will go a long way toward keeping our children and our roadways safe from reckless drunk drivers.”

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