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On May 9th, New York State’s highest court upheld stringent licensing suspensions for repeat driving-while-impaired offenders which have been in effect since September 2012. The Court of Appeals ruled that the suspensions meet the test of acceptable rulemaking by government agencies in New York without intruding on the authority of the state legislature, as defined by the Court of Appeals in its seminal ruling of Boreali v. Axelrod, 1 (1987). Drunk driving causes around 300 deaths and 6,000 injuries a year in New York.
In addition to suspensions and/or revocations in certain cases for lifetimes of persistent drunken drivers, the regulations impose a lifetime license revocation for those with five or more alcohol-related convictions within a 25-year span. A new suspension of at least five years was imposed for those with three or four alcohol- or drug-related driving convictions over that 25-year “look-back” period. According to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has denied approximately 13,600 driver license renewal applications since the regulations went into effect.
Governor Cuomo released a statement agreeing that the court was right to uphold the “important and groundbreaking” re-licensing rules: “The safety of New Yorkers is our top priority and this administration has zero tolerance for chronic drunk and impaired drivers whose reckless actions put themselves and others at risk.”
Writing for a unanimous court, Judge Michael Garcia said the regulations issued by then-Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Barbara Fiala meet the four-prong test established in Boreali for acceptable rulemaking. Among the factors to be considered under Boreali, which challenged New York’s restrictions on indoor smoking indoor, is whether the rules as adopted are reasonably tailored to address social problems. Judge Garcia noted that this was not a “very difficult or complex” analysis with the DMV regulations, given the continuing prevalence of drunk driving accidents.
Several provisions in the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law give the DMV commissioner wide authority to issue driver’s licenses, set rules regarding their use and revoke licenses. Judge Garcia wrote that the DMV had the “special expertise or technical competence” to issue rules pertaining to drunken driving, and legislative attempts to create laws to deter drunken driving have not precluded complementary rules in the same field by the department: “The scope of authority delegated to the commissioner, particularly with regard to licensing, is broad,” Judge Garcia wrote.
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Judges Jenny Rivera, Eugene Fahey and Rowan Wilson joined in the ruling. Judge Leslie Stein took no part.