Local authorities back stouter DWI law

Local authorities say they are pleased with a new law that closes a gap in the state’s drinking and driving laws.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in a news release Nov. 1 that individuals who drive drunk with a conditional license will now face a felony charge, which is the same penalty for those who drive drunk with a revoked license.

Previously, driving drunk with a conditional license was only a traffic infraction.

Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira said because of the new law, intoxicated drivers caught while on a conditional license could face a charge of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and up to 4 years in prison.

Sira said she felt the new law was needed.

“This conduct has always been a frustration,” she said.

Gloversville Police Capt. John Sira said the new law does not change how officers handle suspected DWI situations.

“If a person is intoxicated and driving a vehicle, they are going to [be charged] regardless of the license,” Sira said.

According to the release, conditional licenses are issued to drivers who lose their license for drunk driving, but have enrolled in an alcohol and drug rehabilitation program run by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

A conditional license may be used only for driving to and from essential destinations such as work, school and medical appointments.

Montgomery County Undersheriff and Stop DWI Coordinator Jeffery Smith said he is pleased with the new law.

“Anytime someone is given a conditional license, it is certainly not to drive under the influence,” Smith said.

Smith said while he does not believe the new law will increase the number of charges given, it may make the streets safer.

Other changes announced by Cuomo included several provisions that strengthen Leandra’s Law, specifically those that deal with the required installation of an ignition interlock device on vehicles owned, or operated, by a person convicted of misdemeanor or felony DWI or other alcohol-related offenses.

Ignition interlock devices prevent a driver under the influence of alcohol from operating a motor vehicle.

Among the new provisions are those that:

– Increase the minimum requirement for installation of an ignition interlock device from six months to one year.

– Authorize the imposition of ignition interlock devices prior to sentencing as a preventive measure.

– Clarify that youthful offenders are subject to the same ignition interlock requirements that are applicable to adults.

“Today, tough new laws are going into effect to keep drunk drivers off our roads,” Cuomo said in a news release issued Nov. 1. “Strengthening Leandra’s Law and increasing penalties will continue the state’s efforts to keep dangerous and irresponsible drivers from getting behind the wheel and putting themselves and others at risk.”

The release said Leandra’s Law, which took effect in December 2009, is named after 11-year-old Leandra Rosado, who was killed in a crash while riding in a car driven by a drunken driver. In addition to the ignition interlock requirement, that law also made it a felony to drive drunk with a child younger than 16 in a vehicle.