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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Deal reached on drunken driver limited license

CONCORD – New Hampshire may soon join 20 other states allowing first-time drunken drivers to get limited privileges so they could drive to work, care for an ill relative or pursue their education.

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on a compromise bill (HB 496) for motorists to be able to ask a judge’s permission to install an ignition interlock device. ...

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CONCORD – New Hampshire may soon join 20 other states allowing first-time drunken drivers to get limited privileges so they could drive to work, care for an ill relative or pursue their education.

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on a compromise bill (HB 496) for motorists to be able to ask a judge’s permission to install an ignition interlock device.

“This is something that Mothers Against Drunk Diving has been passionate about because studies show as many as 65 percent of those who lose their license for DWI still end up getting behind the wheel,” said House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, the chief author of the measure. “This will ensure folks who are intoxicated won’t be able to drive.”

The interlock device requires the driver to blow into a machine that tests their blood
alcohol content.

The car or truck will not start if the BAC level of the attempted driver is greater than .02, which experts say is equivalent for the average sized male drinking one 12-ounce beer.

The state’s current level for drunken driving is .08 blood alcohol content or higher.

Currently anyone convicted of aggravated drunken driving – with a BAC of .16 or double the legal limit – has to have an ignition interlock device installed in the driver’s vehicle but only after the period of suspension or revocation of the license has been served, which averages nine months.

This program also would apply to any repeat drunken driver or one who is younger than 21 years old.

Judges can require the interlock device remain in that car for 12-24 months after suspension.

The major sticking point between the House and Senate was how long someone would be without a license before they could apply for this temporary use.

The House wanted a 14-day suspension period; the Senate wanted 60 days.

The two sides compromised on 45 days.

“I think we’ve come up with something that will really work,” said state Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, the Senate’s chief negotiator.

The Legislature will vote on this agreement June 4.

Gov. Maggie Hassan has yet to weigh in publicly on this measure.

Rep. Robert Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, said at present many who lose their license the first time can lose everything.

“We’re trying to come up with a way to prevent these folks from losing their jobs due to one mistake,” Cushing said.

Cushing stressed the program is voluntary and any first-time offender could merely serve out the suspension or revocation and receive their license back without an ignition interlock device.

House critics maintain the new interlock devices have GPS tracking capability for police and amount to an invasion of personal privacy.

The House, however, approved of using the latest technology for the program as did the Senate.

House negotiators also agreed with the Senate to delay starting this program until Jan. 1, 2016.

Safety Commissioner John Barthlemes had asked for the later date because his agency already is working on three other new programs that require upgrades to the computer system.

A new $50 fee would have to be paid to state officials to receive the limited license privilege.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving also supported the measure because leaders said judges aren’t employing ignition interlock devices enough of the time.

According to one study offered to a New Hampshire House committee last spring, judges are only ordering them in 2.7 percent of the cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported ignition interlocks are effective in reducing drunk driving repeat offenses by 67 percent.

Maine and 19 other states have similar laws with limited license privileges and MADD reports they have helped reduce drunken driving fatalities by 38 percent in New Mexico, 35 percent in Louisiana, 43 percent in Arizona and 42 percent in Oregon.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).