In New Jersey, Drunk Drivers Who Kill Can’t Avoid Prison

man in prison cellThey’re called accidents sometimes, but they’re not. Drunk driving crashes that result in death are homicides, and the state of New Jersey intends to see that they are treated as such. The governor recently signed a law requiring a minimum of 3 years imprisonment for drunk drivers cause the death of others.

It might come as a surprise how varied the laws and penalties are in this country concerning those who cause death through drunk driving. Some states consider death an aggravating circumstance, like driving drunk with a minor. Others term it negligent homicide, DUI manslaughter, or vehicular manslaughter. In some states a murder charge can be brought as well.

Punishments can range from no jail or prison time at all to extremely long sentences: Maryland specifies 0 to 5 years for DUI manslaughter. Tennessee is 8 to 60 years, and North Dakota 0 to life.

States also impose fines, of course, and these can be breathtakingly large (up to $375,000 in Oregon).

Another Law Needed for New Jersey

This law will very possibly help to deter some drunk drivers, and will send a strong signal that the state does not tolerate impaired driving. However, there are many drunk drivers out there who have not killed, and will not kill, yet pose a danger to themselves and others on the road. Experience has shown that ignition interlocks – devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – reduce this danger. If all DUI offenders in New Jersey were required to use an ignition interlock – as they are in thirty other states – then more lives would be saved. As it stands, Governor Christie thinks that the current interlock law – whereby first DUI offenders only get ignition interlocks if they have a blood alcohol level of .15 or more – is sufficient. It isn’t, which is why the national trend is towards requiring an ignition interlock for all DUI offenses with a BAC of .08 or more.

It is important to deal with DUI manslaughter. But it’s just as important to get drunk drivers off the road. Prison is appropriate for the worst DUI crimes, but ignition interlocks are designed to keep all kinds of drunk drivers from reoffending.