Blog: New York, DWAI, and Plea Downs

Categories: Blog | Tags: Leandra's Law, New York DWAI, New York DWI

Posted 11/6/2018

A few weeks ago, CIIM attended the New York Highway Safety Symposium in Lake Placid, NY.  As part of the event, there was a panel discussion that examined how offenders go through the state’s interlock program and what potential changes could be made to make the New York state law more effective.

In 2010, the New York state legislature passed Leandra’s Law after 11-year old Leandra Rosado was killed while riding as a passenger in a car driven by the intoxicated mother of a friend. The new law required anyone charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) be required to install an ignition interlock device.

NY Governor’s Highway Safety CommitteeThere were over 37,000 drivers on New York roads that have previously been arrested for alcohol-related offenses while operating a motor vehicle as of 2015. Over 7,400 of these offenders were labeled as recidivist drivers who have had an alcohol-related conviction in the previous ten years.

In 2017, there were 37,814 more drunk driving arrests throughout the state. But of those arrests, only 8,775 ignition interlocks were installed. That’s less than one-quarter of offenders (23 percent) who are complying with the law.

How can this be? Drunk driving is clearly posing a danger to traffic safety in New York. But how can there be such a clear-cut law to which offenders aren’t adhering?

One of the reasons arises when many offenders are allowed to plea down to driving while ability impaired (DWAI). By pleading to a lesser DWAI offense, drivers are able to circumvent Leandra’s Law requirement to install an ignition interlock.

The Governors Highway Safety Committee, reports that in 2016 there were 292 alcohol-related fatalities on New York roadways. Mothers Against Drunk Driving data indicates there were 5,656 stops of impaired drivers in 2017 with a BAC of .08 or above. Those numbers are remarkable. But could they be higher? If roughly 8,000 interlocks can stop2018-11-06 just over 5,500 drunk driving attempts; how many more drunk drivers could interlock devices take off of the road? Why aren’t we holding all offenders accountable to the same standard?

In New York, there are too many fatalities, too many arrests and too high a recidivism rate for anyone to be comfortable. There are also too many offenders pleading down to circumvent the requirements of Leandra’s Law. Interlocks have been proven to keep impaired drivers off of the road, by stopping even more people attempting to drive while impaired. But they’ll only work if offenders are actually installing them.

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