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State Senate backs ignition interlocks for DWI offenders

ALBANY - A bill requiring all convicted drunken drivers to blow into a device to test for alcohol when getting behind the wheel was adopted Friday by the State Senate and now is supported by more than half of the Assembly.

Senators, meeting in a special one-day session, unanimously approved the installing of ignition interlocks on vehicles used by people found to have driven under the influence. Offenders would pay for the devices, which prevent a car from starting if alcohol is on the motorist's breath.

Similar laws already are on the books in 11 states, including Illinois, New Mexico and Washington.

New York currently only requires ignition interlocks for people convicted of aggravated DWI, which is having a blood-alcohol content of 0.18 or higher.

Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick), who sponsored the measure with Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach), decried the number of DWI-related traffic deaths. "It has to stop," he said Friday. "There is an epidemic of irresponsible and careless individuals that choose to drink and drive, and kill innocent people every single day on the roadways."

Fuschillo cited the case of Diane Schuler of West Babylon, who police blame for a fiery accident on the Taconic State Parkway in Westchester County that killed her, her daughter and three young nieces. Three men in an SUV were also killed.

Schuler, 36, was driving her minivan the wrong way on July 26 and crashed into the SUV. A vodka bottle was found among the wreckage of Schuler's vehicle. Investigators said she had a 0.19 blood-alcohol level and was high on marijuana, allegations challenged by her family.

Weisenberg was cautiously optimistic the bill would pass the Assembly, where 77 of the 150 members are sponsors. "This is one of the priorities," he said. "Alcoholism is a sickness, and this technology will help people help themselves and prevent others from being hurt."

The Assembly could take up the measure when Gov. David A. Paterson calls a special session this fall to close a $2.1-billion budget deficit.

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