Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen Mcginn Spring was prepared for the
February 4, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
New Driving Laws
One Dan Sullivan got his first photo driver’s license in December.
This would not be all that odd in New Jersey – one of the very last
states to offer paper licenses without photos – but for the fact that
Sullivan is director of agency operations of the New Jersey Motor
Vehicle Commission (MVC). Even post-911, Sullivan says his non-photo
license was not a problem. "I have other photo ID," he says, "and I
use my passport for identification when I fly."
Sullivan has traded up not only to a photo license, but to a new
high-tech digital license, and now other drivers can do so too. On
January 20 the Trenton Regional Service Center became the first Motor
Vehicle Commission (MVC) in the state to issue digital driver’s
licenses. The roll-out brings the state, home of so many technology
innovations, up to speed.
"We are the dead last state to go digital," say Sullivan.
The new license has 22 security features, including a digital
photograph, digital signature, holograms of the state seal and a ghost
photo that is visible only under ultraviolet light. The digital photo
also contains ultraviolet text showing the driver’s name and date of
Banners on the front of the new licenses indicate the type of vehicle
the driver operates or his status. Red is for autos, blue for boats,
green is for commercial vehicles, and yellow is for provisional
drivers. A black banner identifies licenses to be used only as
identification. Orange is for temporary driver’s licenses.
The back of the digital license contains a two-dimensional bar code
and a description of class restrictions and endorsements that apply to
the license holder. The bar code has all the information stored on the
front of the license, which allows law enforcement to swipe the card
through a scanner to easily view a driver’s information.
All MVC agencies are expected to start issuing the new licenses by
June. In the meantime, residents whose licenses are about to expire
can still renew through the mail, and can, if they wish, continue to
carry the archaic paper licenses. But doing so is becoming a liability
for anyone who ever travels very far from his neighborhood.
"A driver’s license used to be just a piece of paper to operate a
vehicle," says Sullivan. "But now it’s the number one piece of paper
to identify who you are." Anyone who has checked into a hotel, cashed
a check, or rented a car knows this. The most requested piece of ID in
an increasingly security-conscious country is a photo driver’s
That being the case, the MVC is working hard to make sure that the new
digital licenses they have begun to issue go only to people who really
are who they say they are. Securing one of the new licenses, which
soon will be mandatory for all drivers, requires more documentation
than ever before. The state has instituted a "six point" system.
Individual pieces of identification are given a point value, which
have to add up to six.
But it’s not as simple as that. For example, six one’s do not add up
to six. Neither do three two’s. Every applicant must have at least one
four-point document. This "primary" piece of identification must be an
original document or must carry the required state municipal seal.
United States citizens may present a birth certificate (worht four
points), U.S. Department of State birth certificate, U.S. adoption
papers, U.S. passport (current or expired for less than three years),
valid New Jersey non-driver digital identification card, valid U.S.
military photo identification card, certificate of naturalization, or
certificate of citizenship.
Non-U.S. citizens may present a current alien registration card with
expiration date including verification from INS or BCIS, foreign
passport with INS or BCIS verification and with valid record of
arrival/departure or valid I-551 stamp in passport, refugee travel
document, U.S. re-entry permit, valid I-94 stamped "refugee,"
"parolee," "asylee," or "notice of action" by the INS or BCIS, or
valid I-94 with attached photo stamped "processed for I-551" by INS or
In addition, anyone whose current name is different from the name on
his or her primary document must submit proof supporting the change to
the current name. This would apply, for example, to married women who
have taken their husbands’ names. They are now required to present a
certified marriage certificate. A person with several marriages in her
past might also need divorce decrees for any that included a name
The primary document for most is a birth certificate. Those who have
lost theirs, and who were born in the state, have a number of options
for getting a new one. The document can be obtained over the Internet,
by mail, or in person. The state uses a company called VitalChek
(www.vitalchek.com) to expedite document orders – marriage and death,
as well as birth – over the Internet. The company’s express courier
service can deliver a birth certificate in four to six business days
for a charge of $60. The charge for five-to-eight day delivery via
FedEx is $27.75. Anyone who is not in a hurry can obtain a birth
certificate via VitalChek for $4. Orders may be placed by fax
(877-553-2194) and by phone (877-622-7549) as well as over the
The state, through the Department of Health and Senior Services, also
offers a write-in service. (Write to NJ Vital Statistics – Customer
Service Unit, H&A Building, Fifth Floor, Warren and Market streets,
Trenton 08625). Details are available at www.state.nj.us/health/vital.
The turn around time is six to eight weeks.
A relatively painless option for those who live near Trenton is a trip
to the state’s vital record customer service unit. It is located at
the corner of Warren and Market streets. The state gives the maximum
waiting time as two hours, but it can be considerably less. The fee is
just $4 for the first certificate, and $2 for each additional copy.
New Jersey residents who were born out of state, but within the United
States, can go through VitalChek to get copies of their birth
certificates. Other options include visiting the website of the state
or contacting the offices of the county seat.
Acceptable forms of identification to obtain a birth certificate are a
valid photo driver’s license or photo non-driver’s license, a photo ID
or an alternate form of ID with address, or two alternatate forms of
ID with address. The alternate IDs acceptable include a school ID, a
utility bill, an insurance card, and a green card.
Is it not a tad askew that the requirements to obtain the primary
document needed to secure a driver’s license are so lenient? Not
really, says Sullivan. "That’s why we require the secondary
documents," he explains. His agency has seen a great number of fake
birth certificates, he says. Birth certificate scams are so common
that the MVC receives ongoing alerts from law enforcement agencies
across the country.
Many of these secondary documents, at two or three points each, are
enough to secure a license. These documents include a New Jersey
firearm purchaser card, FAA pilot license, U.S. college photo
identification card with transcript or school records, or civil
marriage certificate or divorce decree.
Many other documents are good for one point, but be aware that only
two one-point documents will be accepted toward the total of six.
One-point documents include an ATM card, high school diploma, a high
school certificate (written test waiver), current New Jersey
non-digital driver’s license, New Jersey public assistance card with
photo, current health insurance card, bank statement (cannot be
submitted in conjunction with an ATM card), property tax bill issued
by a New Jersey municipality, and state professional license.
In addition to documents adding up to six points, applicants need to
present either a Social Security card or need to be able to reel off
the number. Sullivan says the MVC is newly able to cross-check Social
Beyond basic security logic, a reason that the state is tightening
requirements is that, in the past, employees have made cash on the
side by selling driver’s licenses. Sullivan says the MVC is aware of
this danger and has implemented numerous layers of security to prevent
Workers at MVC agencies are now state employees. They are more
invested in their jobs, says Sullivan, because they have state
benefits, are enrolled in state pension plans, and "have a future."
What was in many cases a dead-end job has expanded. MVC employees have
gained the possibility of moving into – and up through – other state
Should that not be incentive enough, the MVC has hired a security
chief, staffed his office, and installed security cameras. It’s a
brave new world at MVC.
On January 20 Governor McGreevey put Garden State drivers on notice
that they had better watch how much they drink before they put key to
ignition. He signed legislation lowering the blood alcohol content
(BAC) at which a person is considered to be guilty of drunk driving
from 0.10 to 0.08. Called "Florence’s Law," the new standard is named
after the late Florence Nass, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
activist whose son was killed by a drunk driver.
The 0.08 threshold is already the standard in most states.
MADD is the high-profile, national anti-drunk driving organization
that includes not only mothers against drunk driving, but also a fair
number of fathers, sons, daughters, uncles, and grandparents. It gave
New Jersey a grade of D- in its latest report card for its BAC
testing, data, and records, a D for its administrative measures and
criminal sanctions, and a C+ for its laws against drunk driving.
In 2002, there were 747 traffic fatalities in New Jersey, and 297 of
them were determined to be alcohol related. After several years of
decline, drunken driving deaths are again on the rise in New Jersey.
An additional impetus to pass the 0.08 legislation, which spent 10
years working its way through to law, was the fact that the federal
government is withholding transportation funds from states that do not
adopt this standard. By signing Florence’s Law, Governor McGreevey
brought $7.2 million in withheld federal highway construction aid into
In December, 2000, when a move to a lower BAC standard appeared
imminent, the West Windsor Plainsboro News, curious to see just how
inebriated a person would become as BAC rose, assigned a reporter to
Freelance writer Diana Wolf and a designated driver arrived at the
West Windsor police station with a bottle of Gewurztraminer wine (12.5
percent alcohol). There she simultaneously got intoxicated and
underwent exams to determine her level of intoxification.
For the West Windsor test, the reporter was an average-sized woman;
her drink the equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of beer or a mixed drink
with a one-ounce shot of hard liquor.
Wolf started drinking at 6:45 p.m. on an empty stomach while she
waited for her designated driver to arrive at her apartment. Within
fifteen minutes she reported feeling the effects. She nibbled pretzels
while she finished her second glass, chugging the last of it as her
On the trip to the police station, where her test would get underway
in earnest, she felt dizzy and her fingers were numb. Sitting in the
driver’s seat, she felt that her reaction time was slow. "I feel I
would have hit the brakes a little late," she wrote. "I think I could
drive home if I needed. I’m not out of control, but I am not totally
Arriving at the police station at 7:45 p.m., she was put through a
field test that officers make DWI suspects perform. She walked nine
steps forward, heel to toe, counting each step out loud. She pivoted
and repeated the steps, as Patrol Officer Marylouise Dranchak watched
for any unbalance or arm waving. Next, she stood on one foot, lifting
the other in front of her to a height of six inches off the ground.
She stared at the foot and counted to 30. If her foot had hit the
ground twice, she would have failed. But she held was able to keep her
foot aloft, and passed both tests.
She did, however, show signs of intoxification on the third test,
which is called the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus or HGN. It tests the
driver’s ability to follow a lighted source from left to right. (The
HGN is good at detecting heavy drinkers who may be able to function
After two drinks, had she been stopped by Dranchak, Wolf would have
been allowed to proceed.
At 8:23 p.m. Wolf poured her third glass of wine and ate some more
pretzels. She felt "relaxed and chatty." As she drank, Dranchak told
her that the safest drink to have on a two-drink night is beer, which
has around 5 percent alcohol. Wine averages 12 percent, and a serving
of hard liquor contains 40 percent. Having food in the stomach will
cause the blood level to rise more slowly.
The third drink gone, Wolf took the field tests again – and failed.
She lost her balance and slurred her words. Her blood alcohol level
was 0.09, under the legal limit until just two weeks ago, when the new
standard beccame law.
Wolf told Dranchak that she thought she was okay to drive. The police
officer replied that casual drinkers experiencing her level of
intoxication are "sometimes the most dangerous drivers on the road."
At 9:15 p.m. Wolf finished her fourth glass of wine. She had felt like
dancing after her first glass, but no more. "The room is not steady,"
she reported. "I’m slurring my words more than before." At 9:29 p.m.
she tried the field tests again, and was not even able to walk up
three steps. Her last breathalyzer test, at 9:40 p.m., registered
0.16. Dranchak predicted she would not be sober for 11 hours.
According to the Narcotic Educational Foundation of America, the speed
of alcohol consumption affects the rate at which one becomes drunk.
Dranchak told Wolf that her first three glasses would likely have put
her at 0.10 had they been consumed within an hour. Unlike foods,
alcohol does not have to be slowly digested. It is immediately
absorbed into the blood, which rapidly carries it to the brain. The
"burn off rate" is approximately 0.015 to 0.020 percent blood alcohol
per hour, which translates into about 2/3 of one drink.
At 0.02 BAC there is a sense of warmth and well-being. At 0.04 most
people feel relaxed, energetic, and happy. Time seems to pass quickly.
Skin may flush and motor skills may be slightly impaired. At 0.05
individuals may begin to experience lightheadedness, giddiness,
lowered inhibitions, and impaired judgment. Coordination may be
At 0.08 muscle coordination is definitely impaired, and reaction time
decreased. Driving ability is suspect. At 0.10 there is clear
deterioration of coordination and reaction time. Individuals may
stagger and speech may become fuzzy. At 0.15 all individuals
experience a definite impairment of balance and movement. Double that,
and the drinker is on the way to unconsciousness.
New Jersey’s new law seeks to cut drinkers off way this side of
unconsciousness. Those who break the law face stiff penalties, which
become more harsh as their BAC rises. First offenders with a BAC of
0.08 or higher but less than 0.10 will receive a fine of $250 to $400
and up to a three month license suspension. Those with a BAC of 0.10
or higher will receive a fine of $300 to $500 and a license suspension
of at least seven months. The same graduated penalties apply to people
who let intoxicated persons get behind the wheel.
Penalties go up sharply for repeat offenders, and became stiffer still
on the same day that the 0.08 standard became law: Michael’s Law
requires a person who commits a third offense to serve a 180-day term
And if you get arrested and refuse the breathalyzer test, you are
guilty of violating the law that requires you to take the test, and
carries with it penalties identical to the drunk driving law. And you
could still be convicted of drunk driving based on the field tests.
And the penalties are consecutive.
Corrections or additions?
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— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.