A new law that will require alcohol ignition interlocks to be installed in cars driven by convicted drunk drivers has counties scrambling to develop enforcement plans.
The new law takes effect Aug. 15 and is part of Leandra’s Law, which increased the penalties for driving drunk with a minor in the car. It unanimously passed both houses of the state Legislature and was signed by Gov. David Paterson Nov. 18.
State officials say a provision of the law requiring mandatory breath alcohol ignition interlock devices may actually do more to reduce drunk driving.
The interlock systems work like breathalyzers, and require the user to exhale into a device before the car will start. They will be required for people convicted of felony or misdemeanor driving while intoxicated. The devices must be installed in vehicles they own or have access to.
New York’s Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives has developed regulations for how the law will be implemented, including a mandate that counties submit enforcement plans by June 15.
“New York state has now joined nine other states in the country in implementing mandatory, not optional, ignition interlock laws. What states who have implemented this effectively have seen is a dramatic reduction in the number of DWI arrests, decrease in fatalities and consequently fewer prosecutions and fewer incarcerations,” said DPCA Director Robert Maccarone. “There is no question in my mind, when looking at the national experience, that implementation of Leandra’s Law is going to make our roadways safer in New York state.”
Some county officials are worried about the cost of monitoring the devices and are concerned county taxpayers will be asked to foot the bill to install them.
The Fulton County Board of Supervisors earlier this month voted to order its Probation Department to hold off on any plan until the state commits to paying. Part of Leandra’s Law allows judges to determine whether the convicted are unable to afford the devices.
Schenectady County Supreme Court Judge Vito Caruso, the district administrative judge for the state’s 4th judicial district, said he’s assigning judges to serve as members of county planning committees, including in Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, Saratoga and Schenectady counties. So far, only Fulton County has rejected the state’s mandate to develop an implementation plan, he said.
Caruso said he couldn’t speak to Fulton County’s concern about the cost.
“How it’s done, really isn’t the court’s concern. We aren’t paying for it. The money for it is between the probation departments, the counties and the [vendors who make the machines],” Caruso said.
The interlock devices are expected to cost about $800 per car for a six-month period. Installation is expected to typically cost about $100, then it will cost another $100 each month the device operates and then another $100 to remove them. Installation of the devices for six months would be typical. Repeat offenders might be required to keep the devices on any cars they have access to, whether or not they have a drivers license, for a period of years.
Normally DWI offenders will be required to pay the full cost of the devices, but a provision in the law grants judges the discretion to decide if the devices are “unaffordable” for some people convicted of DWI.
Maccarone said DPCA is requiring all of the companies that want to sell ignition interlocks to counties in New York to agree to supply 10 percent of the devices for free, and spread out their cost to the DWI offenders who can pay for them. The 10 percent mark for non-paying DWI offenders was developed from studying a similar law in Illinois.
“We have implemented this law in such a way that there will be no financial impact for the cost of providing ignition interlock devices on county taxpayers or localities. That is not going to happen,” Maccarone said. “The burden of that has been placed on manufacturers. The manufacturers have agreed to assume that burden, that financial risk, because New York state is big. We have 25,000 DWI convictions. We estimate the business enterprise for ignition interlocks could be between $25 million and $40 million. This is a huge market. We knew that when we developed these regulations.”
Johnstown 3rd Ward Supervisor John “Jack” Callery, the chairman of Fulton County’s Public Safety Committee, said the state needs to slow down its implementation of this law. He said DPCA’s plan to spread the cost of the devices to the manufacturers may not work in poorer counties like Fulton.
“The vendor has to charge the first person who is deemed able to afford it 10 percent more than the cost. What happens in Fulton County if the judge determines the first 10 people convicted can’t afford to pay it? How is the vendor supposed to eat that? The vendor’s not going to eat it,” Callery said. “If the vendor doesn’t eat it, and the judge orders it, what we’ve been told is it will come back on the county taxpayers.”
Montgomery County Probation Department Director Lucille Sitterly said her county has asked the state to hold off on implementation of the law for two years, but she’s developing a plan for the June 15 deadline. She said she’s dubious about the state’s assertion that only 10 percent of the DWI convictions will be people who can’t afford the devices.
“I’ve been told several times that the counties will not be on the hook for this cost, but I don’t think the counties necessarily believe it because I believe the indigent rate will be higher than 10 percent. It will be the judge’s call whether they have to pay for it or not,” she said. “This mandates that a misdemeanor DWI who gets conditional discharge has to have an interlock device installed on their car and any car they have access to, meaning: if your wife has a car, your children have cars or any cars in your household. With the cost per vehicle, this could be thousands of dollars.”
Maccarone admits there will likely be some cost to counties for monitoring compliance with the law. He said counties have been asked to specify which agency will monitor the devices and how they intend to report when a device hasn’t been installed, whether an individual has tampered with the devices, which is itself a misdemeanor offense, and any “failed tests,” instances in which a driver has blown an illegal blood alcohol content.
DPCA has applied for $3 million in National Highway Traffic Safety funding to help pay for implementing the law. He expects the money to be awarded his department by September and it will then be distributed among counties based on 2008 DWI conviction rates.
Monitoring the devices may very considerably depending on the models used.
John Ruocco, the president and owner of Long Island-based Interceptor Ignition Interlocks, said his company has patented technology that will transmit data for the interlock devices to satellites that send the information to websites that can be easily monitored by the counties on a real time basis, without the need to have the DWI offenders bring the devices back to the county to download data. Ruocco said he’s been in the ignition lock business since 1989 and the technology has finally progressed to the point where the legal system can use them effectively.
“The old technology, the devices had not been changed since 1975. The reason judges were reluctant to put them into vehicles is they were never able to identify who is actually driving the vehicle,” he said. “With our technology we use a camera, a GPS locator and we use real time data transmission.”