July 22, 2024
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July 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Thank God for Shabbat! Not only do we Orthodox Jews self-impose a ban on work and electronic devices on Shabbat, but we refrain from driving our cars, thus keeping us off the roads Friday nights and Saturdays each week. This refrain from driving has benefits for anyone who has attended a Shabbat bar mitzvah, a Kiddush club, or merely been served a great Shabbat meal with wine.

We as a people are not known for our drinking, compared to the rest of the world. But trust me when I tell you that on any given Shabbat, there are enough bottles of single malt scotch, bourbon, and vodka consumed both in and out of various shuls in our area to make the people of Scotland blush. I’m not condemning drinking or passing judgment on those who do. Rather, I am thankful that for at least 25 hours a week, the Orthodox world need not be worried about driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI).

DUI or DWI (driving while intoxicated or impaired) can refer to alcohol, drugs, or any substance that reduces your ability to operate a motor vehicle. Most people are aware that the national legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is under.08%. This is determined by either an Alcotest (the New Jersey version of the Breathalyzer) or a blood test. What most people don’t know is that the BAC limit is not always.08%. For example, if you hold a commercial driver’s license, the legal BAC is reduced to under.04%. For a minor, even a.01% will place you in violation of the law, because any amount of alcohol in your system is illegal. It is important to note that your consent to being tested by a Breathalyzer is deemed to be given just by driving a vehicle. There are penalties, including an automatic suspension of your driving privileges, for refusing to take the Breathalyzer test.

I’m invariably asked by clients if they should submit to the officer’s demand for a breath test. The answer is almost always yes. (The “almost” is reserved for the repeat offenders who are facing significant jail time and have had so much to drink that their BAC readings would place them in a category above and beyond the scope of this article.)

Are you too drunk to drive? There’s an app for that. For example, BACtrack advertises itself as the “most accurate smartphone Breathalyzer.” Maybe, but what these devices don’t tell you is that you can be charged with DUI, even without proof of a BAC above the legal limit. Prosecutors throughout the State of New Jersey routinely proceed to trial armed with only the officer’s observations of the driver. Your swerving on the road, your glossy eyes, slurred speech, and slow movements are enough for the state to prosecute you, no matter what your Breathalyzer app says.

Societal fears of the dangers of drunk driving have placed strict “law & order” penalties on violators. After conducting a field sobriety test and administering a Breathalyzer, the police process you and place you under arrest. No court in the state will allow you to represent yourself for a charge of DUI. This is understandable, since the penalties include high fines, loss of your driver’s license, and possible incarceration. The economic penalties just keep on coming, through the court, Motor Vehicle Commission, your auto insurance, and even higher life insurance premiums.

If the risks to your life, the costs to your wallet, and the loss of your liberties are not enough to stop you from drinking and driving, allow me tell you a true story. I represented a healthy client in his 50s with a family, a good job, and a clean driving record. He was at a holiday office party with his colleagues and had some drinks. Thinking he was not too drunk to drive home, he drove his car into oncoming traffic and is now a quadriplegic. Each time I visited him in the hospital his regret and despair were evident.

It is not merely our own lives that we must protect. Our teenage children, who are now old enough to drive, watch the adult alcohol consumption of both their parents and their peers. It is dangerous to assume that our kids will not be drinking and driving. Any amount of alcohol will place them in danger of arrest if they are stopped while driving. We need to be a better example for our children and teach them the dangers of alcohol consumption. Then there are the pedestrians and other drivers who are invariably killed and maimed as a result of DUI violators.

Needless to say, if you drink alcohol you should not drive. Maybe we should play it safe and only drink on Shabbat. That way, when you make a l’chaim, it will truly be your Jewish life that you are toasting by keeping Shabbat and staying off the roads.

Jordan B. Comet is an attorney with offices in Teaneck, NJ. His firm, Comet Law Offices, specializes in municipal, criminal, and civil litigation. He can be reached at 201-385-1900 or [email protected].

By Jordan B. Comet

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