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DWI comes with a new catch starting Monday

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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After Sunday, New Yorkers convicted of driving while intoxicated will be required to install ignition interlock devices in their vehicles for at least six months.


Convicted drunken drivers will have to blow into an alcohol reading device, which will lock the ignition if the blood-alcohol content is 0.045 percent or above. The state considers a BAC of 0.08 percent the threshold for intoxicated driving.


This new requirement is part of Leandra's Law, which makes drunken driving a felony, regardless of the BAC, if a child under age 16 is in the car.


Rick C. Barrisford, a Jefferson County probation officer and the county's Stop DWI coordinator, said the intent of the law is to save lives.


"That's what it is going to do," he said. "It's a good attempt to get drunk drivers off the road."


But the new law, like the crime, will affect more people than just the offender.


Mr. Barrisford said not only will the offender's vehicle need a device, but any vehicle he or she drives will be required to have a device.


"He won't be able to drive his buddy's car and no one will be able to drive the offender's car without blowing into the device first," he said. "If a teenager is going out with her friends she'll need to blow into it first. If a spouse is grocery shopping with the kids, she'll need to blow into it. It will affect the entire family."


The devices also may affect other drivers.


Mr. Barrisford said the device would require the vehicle's operator to blow into it periodically after the car is running. There will be some buffer time, enough to pull the car over, but if the driver fails to blow into the device, the horn will start blaring and the lights will start flashing, he said.


"It could definitely be considered a distraction," Mr. Barrisford said. "The intent is for other drivers to associate that ruckus with a drunk driver."


The offender will have to pay an installation fee of $100, a $3 per day maintenance fee and a $15 monthly calibration fee. The total cost of the device for six months will be about $735.


"And those fees are on top of all the other fines and fees and everything else," said William W. Bowman, executive director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council of Jefferson County Inc.


Between legal fees, court fees, Department of Motor Vehicle fines, required classes and these new costs for the device, a DWI conviction can cost upward of $2,000.


There are still some gray areas of the new requirement, and Mr. Barrisford said he expects the first few months to be a learning experience for those involved.


The law includes a provision in which a judge can waive the fees related to the device, but no standards have been established on which a judge can base his or her decision.


"To my understanding, a judge can decide whether a person can or cannot afford the device," Mr. Barrisford said. "I expect in the future a standard will be set. We are going to have a learning curve. Come back a few months from now and I may have different answers."


Mr. Barrisford said he did not know whether motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles operated by an offender would have to be equipped with a device.

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