A New Mexico City Considers Seizing Repeat DWI Offenders’ Vehicles

New Mexico debates seizing cars of repeat DWI offendersIf you have multiple DWI convictions in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, you might lose more than your license soon: you could say goodbye to your ride. The City Council is debating a proposal that would allow the DMV to seize the vehicles of repeat DWI offenders.

Drivers arrested for their second DWI offense could choose between having their car permanently seized or booted for a month. The latter option would require paying a fee.

Vehicle Forfeiture for DWI: Pros and Cons

Car seizure laws tend to provoke controversy. Supporters of forfeiture note that a vehicle in the hands of an impaired driver is a dangerous weapon. Other weapon-wielding criminals are arrested and disarmed. Why should this not be the case with drunk drivers? In addition, the threat of vehicle seizure should be a strong deterrent to anyone considering a drive home after a night of drinking. Finally, as the seizure is a civil action, it could be employed even if the driver escaped conviction on a technicality.

Opponents say that the driver, and not the car, is the problem. Many citizens worry that the profitability of the forfeiture system would lead to abuse and conflict of interest. It would put the largest burden on the poor, who could not afford the booting fee and would thus have their cars taken away permanently. Many forfeiture opponents prefer ignition interlocks, also called car breathalyzers, which are able to reduce DWIs by preventing a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Offenders retain their vehicles, and are theoretically able to work, seek treatment, and rebuild their lives.

There is also the issue of a car being used without the owner’s knowledge for drunk driving. In the case of the Rio Rancho ordinance, the owner’s car would not be seized unless the city could prove that the owner had knowledge of the intention to drive drunk.

It’s too soon to tell where Rio Rancho will come down on the issue of confiscating repeat DWI offenders’ vehicles. But New Mexico is well acquainted with the successful use of legislation to reduce alcohol-related deaths: the state was the first to introduce ignition interlocks for all DWI offenders, and its roads are much safer as a result. Whatever happens in Rio Rancho, we hope it helps continue the downward trend in drunk driving offenses that is New Mexico’s proud legacy.