Unless you blow, your car won’t go

Devices like this one are now required to be installed on vehicles driven by anyone convicted in New York State of driving while intoxicated.

Anybody sentenced in Southold and Riverhead justice courts recently learned that a conviction for driving while intoxicated carries a new punishment in New York State.

As of Aug. 15, all are required to have interlock devices installed in their vehicles to prevent them from driving until they blow into them to test their blood alcohol content. The device must remain in place for at least six months.

The device, which prevents a driver from starting the vehicle if his blood alcohol content registers .025 or higher, used to be required only for repeat offenders at a judge’s discretion.

The new rule is part of Leandra’s Law, which was passed by the New York State Legislature in November 2009, and named for 11-year-old Leandra Rosado. She was killed in an accident in New York City Oct. 11, 2009, while riding in a vehicle with a friend of her mother’s who was drunk. The law makes it a felony to drive drunk with a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle.

Last week, Judge Allen Smith in Riverhead Justice Court imposed the new state interlock requirement for the first time and said he was optimistic that it can help cut back on people who drive drunk. But he had concerns about enforcement. In the case he heard, an attorney was arguing that his client should be given a conditional discharge and not required to have the interlock system installed because the individual didn’t own a vehicle.

Judge Smith rejected the argument, refusing to grant a conditional discharge without probation, as the attorney had requested, because there would be no way of monitoring the driver. But according to his sentence, he is not allowed to drive any vehicle that is not equipped with an interlock device for at least six months.

“We neither have the staff, nor the time,” Judge Smith said about the court’s ability to enforce the ruling. But probation officers can monitor those convicted, he said.

There are multiple types of interlock devices, he said, noting some are very sophisticated and equipped with cameras to film the driver. The devices can also develop a sense of a person’s schedule and sound an alert when there is a deviation. Someone who drives his child to school every morning using the device who suddenly doesn’t take that trip might be suspected of using someone else’s vehicle. The alert will trigger an investigation, Judge Smith said.

Of course, drivers convicted of DWIs have their licenses revoked, but look at the vast numbers of tickets being issued regularly to people driving without a license to understand the value of the interlock device, Judge Smith said.

Southold Police Capt. Martin Flatley said drivers convicted in his town have to leave a $500 deposit with the police until they produce proof that the device has been installed. Costs of the device vary but it’s often a monthly rental fee of between $50 and $100 along with maintenance fees and download fees to support various types of devices.

Judge Rudolph Bruer imposed the new penalty recently in Southold Justice Court.

Is he optimistic that it will help to cut down on DWIs?

“You never know; it certainly can’t hurt,” Judge Bruer said. Some people think every car should be equipped with an interlock device, he said.

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