Two New Mexico DUI Bills – One Hit, One Miss

Bullseye with Two ArrowsNew Mexico knows that drunk driving is still a problem in that state, and they’re at work on solutions. Recently a package of bi-partisan crime bills was approved by the House Judiciary Committee. There are more hurdles ahead, which means there’s time to look at two of the bills in the package aimed at drunk driving. One is good, one not so much.

Good Idea: Compliance-based Removal of Ignition Interlocks

One New Mexico DUI bill is an excellent one sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Thomson, D-Albuquerque. It stiffens the requirements for having an ignition interlock removed. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Currently the devices are ordered for any drunk driving offense – a sensible strategy adopted by 30 states.  But the devices are removed after the interlock term is up, without regard to whether or not the offender attempted to drink and drive during that time.

The bill, House bill 266, states that a person can have the device removed after the license revocation period provide they show:

  • Evidence that the ignition interlock device has recorded no more than two failed tests at a blood alcohol level greater than .05, and
  • Evidence that the offender used the device at least once a week during the last 6 months

The first provision would ensure that the offender was making an honest effort not to drink and drive. The second would ensure that the offender wasn’t using another vehicle that wasn’t equipped with an ignition interlock.

Not So Good Idea: Sobriety Monitoring Alone

The other New Mexico DUI bill, House Bill 265, has the same interlock compliance provision, but also allows an offender to skip the ignition interlock and choose a sobriety monitoring program instead. These programs require persons to check in with a supervisor, usually twice a day, and have a sobriety test.

There’s nothing wrong with a sobriety monitoring program as such – it can help certain offenders with substance problems with their treatment programs. But most people in rehab have slips, and that is where the danger lies. If an offender drinks during probation, an ignition interlock is the only thing that can prevent him or her from getting behind the wheel. A sobriety program can accomplish a lot, but it can’t disable a car’s starter.

If New Mexico wants to achieve the ultimate goal of DUI prevention – reducing the number of alcohol-related collisions and deaths on the road – it should adopt HB 266 and ensure that drunk drivers are able to go 6 months without trying to drink and drive. If they still want sobriety monitoring, it should be a supplement to, and not a substitute for an ignition interlock. Interlocks are the only devices that actually prevent a person under the influence from driving.