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Whelan Ignition Interlock Bill — Ricci’s Law — Signed Into Law

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – A bill sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan named “Ricci’s Law,” which will require certain first, second and subsequent offenders under the State’s driving while intoxicated laws to install an ignition interlock device, was signed into law yesterday by Acting Governor Steve Sweeney at the home of Richard and Sherri Branca, whose son, Ricci – the inspiration for the legislation – was killed by a drunk driver in 2006.

“Ignition interlock devices represent one of our best tools in cutting down on the high rate of recidivism among DUI offenders,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “These systems have a proven track record of discouraging drivers who are drunk from getting behind the wheel. Through this new law, we will hopefully be able to keep more drunken drivers off our roadways, and make our streets safer for New Jersey’s law-abiding citizens.”

The bill, S-1926, amends the 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. Previously, the court had 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 the new law, ignition interlocks will be mandatory for first time offenders whose blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.15 percent or higher, and for all subsequent offenders. The new law 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.

“Research studies have shown that even first time DUI offenders have usually gotten behind the wheel drunk more than once before they’re finally caught,” said Senator Whelan. “These are drivers who have shown poor judgment and a shocking disregard for their own lives and the greater public safety. Requiring them to prove their sobriety before they can operate a vehicle seems justifiable, particularly when you consider the emotional toll so many families go through upon losing a loved one to a drunk driving accident.”

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 had passionately advocated for the ignition interlock legislation in the New Jersey Statehouse, attending bill hearings and floor votes whenever the measure was posted. He credited the Brancas’ passionate, eloquent and dedicated advocacy for the ultimate passage of the law, saying ‘they put a face to why this law is so needed in New Jersey.’

“The Brancas have been there every step of the way, telling their story at rallies and in committee hearings and putting a personal spin on the need for this law,” said Senator Whelan. “I’m honored that we were able to sign the bill at their home, after all their hard work and hours of passionate advocacy in our State’s capital city. The Brancas were able to take a very personal family tragedy and turn it into something positive in order to make our State a safer place, and all of New Jersey owes them a debt of gratitude.”

The bill received final legislative approval in both houses of the Legislature earlier this week.

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