Photo Courtesy: Associated Press
By Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau
ALBANY Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law Friday that aims to close a loophole in the state's system for punishing those who drive drunk with a child in the car.
The new law makes changes to Leandra's Law, which was signed into law in 2009 and made it a felony to drive drunk with a child in the vehicle.
Drivers convicted under the law are required to install a breathalyzer-style ignition-interlock system in their cars for six months. But many offenders were able to flout the interlock requirement by registering their vehicles in someone else's name. Between August 2010 and December 2011, ignition interlocks were only installed in 31 percent of Leandra's Law convictions, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Under the new law signed Friday, a person will be put under oath if they claim they no longer own a car, bringing perjury charges into the picture if the person were found to have been lying.
"Driving under the influence puts everyone on the road at risk," Cuomo said in a statement. "By strengthening Leandra's Law we are continuing the strides made in her memory to combat this dangerous behavior and prevent additional senseless tragedy."
The original law was named after Leandra Rosado, an 11-year-old New York City girl who was killed in a car driven by an intoxicated driver in 2009.
Advocates, including Rosado's father and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, had led a push to close the loophole for the past two years. Last year, a version of the bill passed the Senate, but was bottled up in the Assembly Transportation Committee before lawmakers left the Capitol.
"Leandra's Law has been tremendously beneficial in the fight against drunk driving, but it needs to be strengthened to ensure that more DWI offenders use ignition interlocks," said Sen. Charles Fuschillo, R-Nassau County, who sponsored the bill. "That's exactly what this new law does."
Also on Friday, penalties for distracted driving -- including driving while texting -- officially increased. Now, distracted driving carries a maximum fine of $150 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense within an 18-month span and $400 for a third.
Earlier this year, texting-while-driving violations increased from three points to five points on a driver's license.