Office of the Governor
Governor Whitman Signs Bill to Prevent Drunk Driving
Gov. Christie Whitman today signed legislation that prohibits open or unsealed alcoholic beverage containers in passenger areas of motor vehicles and imposes ignition interlock device and registration restrictions on residents with repeat drunk driving offenses.
"Law enforcement's efforts to protect public safety along our streets and highways will benefit from these new measures," said Gov. Whitman. "Drivers under the influence of alcohol remain a concern to each of us. We need to be vigilant in our pursuit of reducing their ability to cause harm on our roadways."
This bill also brings state law into compliance with the Federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, allowing the state Department of Transportation to maximize its federal highway construction funding.
S-1475, was sponsored by Senators John J. Matheussen (R-Camden/Gloucester) and Norman M. Robertson (R-Essex/Passaic) and Assemblymen Alex DeCroce (R-Essex/Morris/Passaic) and Francis L. Bodine (R-Atlantic/Burlington/Camden).
The measure prohibits open or unsealed containers in the passenger area of a motor vehicle. In order to ensure that individuals may legally transport open or unsealed containers when appropriate, the prohibition would not apply to the trunk or area behind the last upright seat of a trunkless vehicle, the living quarters of trailers or motor homes, or to passengers on charter buses or in limousines.
Current law prohibits consumption of alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle, but not possession of an open container of alcohol. However, except under certain circumstances, the presence of an open container in a motor vehicle creates the presumption that the occupants have consumed alcoholic beverages while operating a motor vehicle.
The bill provides a fine of $200 for a first offense, and a fine of $250 along with 10 days of community service for all subsequent offenses.
The second important feature of the bill concerns penalties for repeat driving while intoxicated offenders. Under this measure, municipal courts would have the discretion to order the installation of an ignition interlock device or to suspend a repeat offender's registration and license plates, or both. The penalties would apply to all vehicles owned or leased by the offender.
Installation of the interlock device would be a condition of license restoration and would be required for one to three years. It is intended to prevent past offenders from operating their motor vehicle after their license has been restored while under the influence of alcohol. The suspension of the repeat offender's registration and license would be concurrent with the suspension of that offender's driving privileges for the same offense. It is intended to reduce a repeat offender's legal access to a motor vehicle during the time of the suspension. Temporary registrations could be issued to other family members in appropriate circumstances.
The bill does not alter the substance of a recently signed law that already provides the courts with discretion to impose ignition interlock devices for a first or any subsequent offenses. However, the new measure moves up the effective date of that law to comply with federal law by applying the ignition interlock device penalty to offenses committed on or after September 30, 2000.