2 Walls, 1 Tree, 1 Hydrant – No-Interlock Drunk Driver Hits Big

operating-vehicle-without-an-interlock-causes-hitsA drunk driver in Hopatcong, New Jersey was arrested recently after she made a startling series of hits. She managed to wallop two stone walls, one fire hydrant and a tree before stopping in the front yard of an unsuspecting town resident.

  • She was charged with:
  • Driving while intoxicated (DWI)
  • Careless driving
  • Reckless Driving, and
  • Operating vehicle without an interlock device
  • Careless vs Reckless Driving

At first, careless and reckless driving might seem to be the same thing. And they’re related. But the key distinction is that a careless driver fails to drive in a careful manner, with good judgement. A reckless driver willfully disregards the safety of others or their property.

A careless driver might run a red light or veer into the shoulder while fiddling with radio buttons, or fail to signal before a turn. Generally this is a civil charge, not a criminal one.

Who is the reckless driver? One who is overly aggressive, or who deliberately cuts off another car, or who races on the roads. Reckless driving is generally a criminal charge with severe penalties.

Where Was The Interlock?

The real question here is why the driver, who obviously had at least one previous DWI, was operating a vehicle without an interlock device if one was required. The ignition interlock, which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, would have prevented the entire incident.

Like many states, New Jersey will mandate an ignition interlock law under certain conditions – in that state it’s a first offense over .15 BAC (blood alcohol concentration) or a repeat offense. But if this driver was supposed to have an ignition interlock – where was it?

Too many states pass laws requiring that drunk drivers install ignition interlocks, and then fail to follow up. New Jersey, alas, is one of them.

How Should Interlock Compliance Work?

Lawmakers, civil administrators, and safety advocates all have their own ideas on how to run an ignition interlock program. But it makes sense that the devices won’t work unless they are installed and monitored. So at the very least, when an ignition interlock order goes out, an authority (MVC, court, or probation officer) should be in the loop. Then, if that authority does not start getting a monitoring report with breath test data by a certain time, action should be taken. And by “action” we don’t mean additional suspension. If license suspension worked, we wouldn’t need ignition interlocks. The driver should be served with a summons and, if he or she still refuses to comply, vehicle impoundment, fines and arrest should follow.

Ignition interlocks work to bring down the number of alcohol-related fatalities on the road. And make no mistake – the hits made could have easily included a person as well as a wall or hydrant. But the program only works if it’s taken seriously and run right. New Jersey needs to make sure that those who are ordered to install interlocks are doing that.