Starting Friday, New York's drunken driving laws will get tougher.
Under new provisions aimed at closing loopholes in the original legislation known as Leandra's Law, a motorist with a restricted license who is caught driving while intoxicated will be charged with a felony crime rather than a traffic infraction, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said Thursday. Leandra's Law is named in memory of 11-year-old Leandra Rosado, who was killed by an inebriated driver on Manhattan's Henry Hudson Parkway in 2009.
A restricted or conditional license allows a person convicted of driving while intoxicated to drive to and from work, school and medical appointments.
Rice -- surrounded by advocates, mothers and a father whose children were killed by drunken drivers -- held a news conference Thursday in Mineola to announce the changes.
"Our message to people who drink and drive in New York is simply this: We're one of the toughest states in the country on drunk drivers, and tomorrow we're going to be even tougher," Rice said.
A loophole in the law had allowed drunken drivers to circumvent installation of a Breathalyzer-type device, an ignition interlock, in their vehicles by selling the vehicles to relatives or friends. Though they no longer owned the vehicles, Rice said, these motorists continued to drive them.
An ignition interlock is a device linked to a vehicle's ignition system that prevents the car from starting if alcohol is detected in a driver's breath.
Under the new law, motorists convicted of drunken driving are required to say in court and under oath that they no longer own a car. If they lie, they will now face perjury and other criminal charges.
Betsy Shein, 54, of Melville, whose son, Jason Shein, 21, was killed in 2008 by a driver who ignored a court order and didn't install a Breathalyzer-type device in his vehicle, supports the toughened provisions.
The death of her only son has destroyed her family. She misses him at Thanksgiving, when she gazes at his empty chair, or when the family gathers for a picture without him.
"Each time it hurts," Shein said. "It hurts a lot."
The new legislation also clarifies a portion of Leandra's Law to ensure that youthful offenders, drivers under age 18, are subject to the same ignition interlock rules as adult drivers.
Lenny Rosado, Leandra's father, who worked to plug the loopholes, would like to see other states follow New York and adopt Leandra's Law.
"I told my daughter that as long as I am alive, I'll continue to fight against drunk drivers whatever which way I can," he said.
Rice, who has made fighting drunken driving a key issue since taking office in 2006, said it's hard to know whether tougher laws lead to fewer drunken drivers.
"One statistic I can tell you is there are fewer deaths on our roads here in Nassau County in alcohol-related crashes now than there were when I took over," she said.