Rep. Kathleen Rice will introduce legislation early next year establishing national standards for criminal penalties against drunk and impaired drivers who have a child in the vehicle
The Prevent Impaired Driving Child Endangerment Act, modeled after New York State’s Leandra’s Law, would require states to enact laws establishing stiff penalties for motorists who drive drunk or high on drugs with a child under the age of 16 in the car. If they don’t states risk losing federal funding.
“These are parents and other guardians . . . who have children in the car and they are literal hostages in their seat belts and are not able to take the keys away from the adult,” Rice (D-Garden City) said at a news conference Wednesday at Eisenhower Park’s Garden of Hope memorial for victims of drunk driving.
While laws would vary state-by-state, the federal standards would require the motorist to be charged with a felony, subject to four years in prison, and to have their license suspended for the length of the prosecution unless an ignition interlock system is installed.
If convicted, an interlock system — which prevents a vehicle from starting if alcohol is detected on the breath of the driver — would be required to be installed in the car for at least six months, the law states.
Authorities would also be required to file a report with the state’s register of child abuse if the motorist is the parent, guardian, or custodian of the child passenger.
Motorists convicted under these new laws would also be mandated to undergo alcohol abuse, substance abuse or mental health assessments. If those assessments determine that the individual needs treatment, court and state monitoring agencies would mandate it as part of the sentence or as a condition of the motorist getting their driver’s license back.
All of the requirements, Rice said, are currently in place in New York.
The bill would also direct the federal Transportation Department to withhold funding through the National Highway Performance Program and Surface Transportation Program from states that fail to meet the requirements.
Rice said that 40 states have laws targeting motorists who drive drunk or on drugs with children in the car. But only seven charge a drunk driver with a felony for driving with a child in a crash that does not involve injuries, according to Colleen Sheehey-Church, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“Child endangerment is not only unconscionable but it’s a crime and it’s absolutely a form of child abuse,” Sheehey-Church said.
Garden City defense attorney Brian Griffin, who has defended multiple suspects in Leandra’s Law cases, said states should have the authority to establish their own DWI standards.
“This bill tries to put a very wide blanket on a very specific problem,” said Griffin, a former county prosecutor.