NEW YORK—New York Governor David Paterson on Wednesday signed into law the toughest driving while intoxicated (DWI) legislation in the nation. The Child Passenger Protection Act, also called Leandra's Law, makes it a felony for individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol to drive with children in the car.
The law will also enact mandatory ignition interlocks for first-timers convicted of a misdemeanor or felony DWI. The interlock devices make a car unusable unless the driver passes a breathalyzer test.
Put together, the law is the toughest in the nation, with only Arizona making it a felony and a only 12 other states using mandatory interlock devices.
"Too often drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs chose to compromise not only their own lives, but also the lives of our children. Today we say enough," said Paterson in a press release.
The state Senate passed the bill on a 58-0 vote Wednesday afternoon, and it was passed in the state Assembly on Tuesday.
Under the bill, a drunk driver with a child under 16 years old in the car could face up to four years in prison. If the child is killed while the driver is intoxicated, it will become a B felony and carry a 7- to 25-year prison sentence.
The law is named after Leandra Rosado, an 11-year-old girl who was killed last month when the car she was in crashed on the side of the West Side Highway. The driver, Carmen Huertas was intoxicated at the time and has been indicted on charges of manslaughter and drunk driving.
"Today is a glorious day," said Leandra's father, Lenny Rosado, in a press release.
Rosado added that he and Paterson spoke "parent to parent" and said, "We stand together to save more lives."
States that have the laws for mandatory interlock devices have 35 percent fewer DWI offenses, according to Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Commissioner of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services Denise O'Donnell, in a press release.
Previously interlock devices were only installed if the court decided it was appropriate.
Senate President Pro Tempore Malcolm Smith called the legislation "a strong step forward in our ongoing effort to eliminate the needless and tragic deaths caused by drunk drivers."
The mandatory interlocks will be installed for at least six months in the vehicle the driver owns and uses.
If the intoxicated driver is a parent or guardian of a child in the car, they will be reported to the Statewide Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment.
“Holding a child’s life hostage by putting them in a car and driving drunk should be a felony, and that’s exactly what this legislation would do," said Senator Charles Fuschillo, Jr. in a press release.