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TRENTONLegislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner that would increase penalties for drunk driving with a minor as a passenger in the vehicle, in cases where a minor is injured, was advanced today by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.

“Individuals who drive under the influence should be held accountable for their actions, especially if a child is involved,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “This bill will create stronger penalties for drivers who get behind the wheel with a minor in the car while intoxicated, and in the course of doing so, are involved in an accident that harms the child. Hopefully, this will make people think twice about drinking and driving and better protect young people who may be at risk.”

The bill, S-2093, would increase the penalty for driving drunk with a minor as a passenger in the motor vehicle if the violation results in bodily injury. An individual would be guilty of a fourth degree crime, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000 or both. If a minor sustained seriously bodily injuries, an individual would be guilty of a third degree crime, punishable by up to thee to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000 or both.

In addition, a parent or guardian would be required to give up the right to drive on the state’s highways for a period of not more than six months and would need to perform community service for a period of not more than five days, according to the bill.

“Making sure that our highways and roadways are safe for both motorists and passengers is a top priority,” added Senator Turner. “Drivers have the responsibility to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their passengers, even more so if they are accompanied by a minor. By providing measures that would prevent drivers from taking the wheel again while drunk, we could potentially decrease the likelihood of injuries and deaths among children.”

According to information provided by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), of the 239 children 0 to 14 years old who were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes during 2012, 124 (52 percent) of those killed were passengers in vehicles with drivers who were an alcohol level above the legal limit.  MADD believes that not only is a child in a vehicle with a drinking driver at risk from the impaired driver, but also from the lack of safety restraint used (like a seat belt or child safety seat). Drinking drivers are less likely to ensure the proper restraint of a child.  Data provided by MADD indicates that in fatal crashes sober drivers had restrained their children 30.5 percent of the time, compared with only 18 percent for drinking drivers.

MADD reported that forty-six states and the District of Columbia have laws enhancing penalties for those who drive drunk with a child as a passenger in the vehicle, including New York and Wisconsin.