Since the 2009 enactment of Child Passenger Protection Act, more commonly known as “Leandra’s Law,” New York has made it an automatic felony to be impaired by alcohol or drugs while driving a child below the age of 16. Hailed by proponents as the nation’s toughest penalty for impaired drivers with child passengers, Leandra’s Law makes it a Class E felony, punishable by between 16 months and four years in prison, to drive a young passenger while impaired by alcohol or drugs.
The penalties escalate if impaired driving cause a child to be injured (the maximum prison term goes to seven years). If reckless driving also contributed to the injury of a child, the maximum rises to 15 years, and if a young passenger was killed by a DWI driver, the maximum prison term can climb to 25 years.
What’s more, those charged with the offense lose their driver’s license as soon as charges are filed. After a conviction, which also brings a fine between $1,000 and $5,000, the driver loses his or her license for at least six months. A driver convicted of the offense of driving while impaired with a child in the vehicle is also reported to the state’s central register of child abusers.
One other key provision in Leandra’s Law requires convicted drivers to have an ignition interlock device (a built-in breathalyzer the driver must use to start the vehicle) installed before being allowed to drive again. Tampering with or bypassing the device, or getting another person to take the breath test, are additional misdemeanors, punishable by up to a year in jail. (A law signed in 2013 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo further tightened provisions on the interlock device.)
Leandra’s Law was named in memory of Leandra Rosado, an 11-year-old who on October 11, 2009, was headed to a party in New York City along with six of her friends. But the SUV carrying them was being driven by one of the children’s mother, who had been drinking cognac at a birthday party for several hours. Doing 68 mph in a 50-mph zone on the Henry Hudson Parkway, she lost control of the vehicle, which hit a guardrail and ran off the road, flipping over several times and slamming into a tree. Leandra was ejected from the vehicle, and soon died from head and chest trauma.
Tests found the driver had 0.132 blood-alcohol content (more than 150% of the state’s 0.08 BAC definition of DWI); she eventually pled guilty to second-degree manslaughter and other charges, drawing a prison sentence of four to twelve years. The case drew attention to the state’s law at the time, which made a first-time conviction of a DWI charge with young children in the vehicle just a misdemeanor, from which many of those charged escaped with as little as probation.
Leandra’s Law unanimously cleared both chambers of the New York legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Basil Patterson about five weeks after the accident. Prosecutors have made effective use of the new charges it provides: in the first three months the law was in effect, nearly a thousand drivers were charged under it, and over a longer timeframe, nearly 70% of drivers facing Leandra’s Law charges have been convicted.