Should Ignition Interlock Users Be Allowed to Buy Alcohol?

ignition interlock users buy alcoholThe question for the day: where does DUI punishment and prevention stop?

New Mexico’s laws, like those of other states, allow courts to punish drunk drivers with prison and fines. The laws also contain measures to prevent a drunk driver from reoffending – mandatory alcohol assessment and counseling and ignition interlock requirements. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Those laws have certainly helped, but New Mexico’s DUI rates tell us more needs to be done.

Four New Mexico legislators have introduced a bill – House Bill 300 – which would prohibit the state’s DUI offenders who use an ignition interlock device to buy alcohol. Sellers would have to check driver’s licenses to make sure the buyer did not have an ignition interlock requirement before selling the booze to them.

The Intention: Take Drunk Drivers Off the Road

The idea of the legislation is simply to make it more difficult for ignition interlock users to buy alcohol. It is conceivable that such offenders could buy booze, start their vehicles, and then start to drink. Therefore it would make sense for alcohol retailers to check driver’s licenses to ensure that the buyer isn’t an interlock user.

The Problem: Drinking is Not Illegal

Not everyone is on board, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s not against the law to drink when you have an ignition interlock – just to drink and drive.

Also, ignition interlocks have what is called a rolling re-test – after a few minutes of driving, offenders must submit another breath sample, and must keep doing so at intervals during the drive. That should be enough to deter all but the most serious drunk drivers.

The question, then, is: are those violators being tracked and apprehended? Is the data from ignition interlocks, which is collected regularly, being reviewed by authorities and acted upon? If so, then the failed re-tests should be alerting law enforcement to prosecute those offenders who drink and drive. That, after all, is the purpose of the ignition interlock – to prevent drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel, and to stop drivers who drink after they begin to drive.

The Solution: A Better Ignition Interlock Program

So it’s probably not a big problem if House Bill 300 doesn’t pass.  It would inconvenience just about everyone who buys alcohol in New Mexico, and while it might keep a few drunk drivers off the road, we think Representative Antonio Maestas (D-Albuquerque) is probably right when he says that a better idea is to beef up New Mexico’s existing ignition interlock program. Some suggestions:

Ensure compliance for all offenders – make sure they all install ignition interlocks as ordered

Ensure prompt monitoring of data for all ignition interlock users, and take immediate action if there are failed tests or evidence of attempts to evade testing

It’s clear New Mexico is going in the right direction, keeping impaired driving in the forefront. But it’s important to remember that drunk driving – and not drinking itself – is the issue the public wants addressed to keep the state’s roads safe.