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Whelan Ignition Interlock Bill — Ricci’s Law — Approved In Assembly

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan named “Ricci’s Law,” which would require certain first, second and subsequent offenders under the State’s driving while intoxicated laws to install an ignition interlock device, was approved by the Assembly today by a vote of 67-3, with 5 abstentions, with final legislative approval pending in the Senate later today.

“Ignition interlock is a major tool in reducing DUI recidivism and making New Jersey’s roads safer for everybody,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “Research has shown that drunken drivers often exhibit among the highest recidivism rates of any motor vehicle offense, particularly because when they get away with it once without incident, they are more likely to tempt fate again. For drivers who have already shown a lack of good judgment in driving drunk, we need mandatory ignition interlock legislation to make sure that they don’t get behind the wheel while impaired again.”

The bill, S-1926, would amend current law to make it mandatory for certain DUI offenders in New Jersey to install ignition interlock devices in the primary vehicle operated by the offender. Under current law, the court has the option to require first-time offenders to install an ignition interlock device for six months to one year immediately following the restoration of a suspended license, and second-time and subsequent offenders are required to install an ignition interlock for a period of one to three years following license restoration. Under Senator Whelan’s bill, ignition interlocks would be mandatory for first time offenders whose blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.15 percent, and for all subsequent offenders. The bill also requires ignition interlock devices to be installed during the period that the offender’s license is suspended as well as after the license is restored.

“New Jersey already has mandatory ignition interlock devices for second and subsequent DUI offenders,” said Senator Whelan. “However, research has shown that even first time offenders have driven while intoxicated more than once before they were eventually caught. Through this measure, hopefully we can reach some of these drivers before their lack of judgment leads to tragedy.”

The bill is named “Ricci’s Law,” after 17-year-old Ricci Branca of Egg Harbor Township, who was killed in July of 2006 by a repeat drunken driving offender whose blood alcohol content (BAC) was four times over the legal limit. Senator Whelan noted that the Branca family has advocated for stricter ignition interlock legislation to ensure that other families don’t suffer the same tragedy their family has had to go through.

“The Branca family has faced the ultimate loss, and used their tragedy to help raise awareness about the dangers of repeat drunken drivers,” said Senator Whelan. “To Ricci’s parents, Richard and Sherri, and his sister, Adrienne, who have told his story at multiple committee hearings and news conferences at the Statehouse, and have pushed hard for mandatory ignition interlock, I thank you for your advocacy. For the Brancas, and the hundreds of families just like them who have lost loved ones due to drunken drivers, we owe it to them to do a better job in keeping repeat drunken drivers off our roads.”

The bill, if approved in the Senate, would head to the Governor to be signed into law.

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