ALERT|nbcnewYORK.com|As the father of a little girl whom the measure is named for wept, Governor Paterson signed a state law that makes driving drunk with a child in the vehicle a felony.
The deal will also require offenders to have devices installed that will keep their engine from starting if their breath shows they are drunk.
Nationwide, more than 12,000 children under 14 died in alcohol-related traffic accidents between 1994 and 2000, according to a recent report of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The study reported by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that in 64 percent of those deaths, the child was in the car with the drunken driver.
Several states, including Arizona, Georgia, Idaho and Ohio, have laws on the books setting tougher penalties for DWI with a child in the vehicle, according to the NCSL.
The law is named for 11-year-old Leandra Rosado, who was killed when a station wagon full of children driven by a mother accused of drunken driving crashed in Manhattan on Oct. 11.
They were heading to a sleepover.
A conviction would be punishable by up to four years in prison if a child up to 15 years old was in the vehicle. There are longer prison terms if the child is injured. Its supporters say it will be a strong deterrent. Currently, there is no additional charge if a driver convicted of DWI had a child in the car when stopped.
“Today I consider this a very glorious day and very victorious day for me,” said Leandra’s father, Lenny Rosado. “For my family, and for my daughter … this is what is going to save lives in her honor.
“Everyone who takes a drink and gets behind the wheel, is going to think twice about driving whether there are children in the car or outside of the car and taking a life, that my daughter’s name and her death will make a difference.”
His tireless, emotional lobbying in recent weeks is widely credited with securing agreement in the Legislature.
Senators credited the New York Daily News for its series of articles on the issue they said pressured lawmakers to come to agreement.
They continued to accuse the Assembly Democratic majority and Speaker Sheldon Silver of trying to “water down” the bill, a contention Silver and Assembly members in the Democratic conference dispute.
Silver contends some minor elements of the Senate’s bill are weaker, giving judges discretion over the charge involving the interlocking devices to disable engines. The Senate disputes that.
In the Senate, the bill drew Democrats to a Republican bill in a rare show of bipartisanship in that chamber this year. The Assembly also drew the early support of Silver and Republican leader Brian Kolb.