Foster's Daily Democrat reports that law enforcement in New Hampshire are opposed to changes in New Hampshire law that would make it easier for the first time DWI offenders to get to work and medical appointments. This discussion comes after a new bill was recently passed that will allow first-time offenders to obtain limited licenses so that they can travel to work, rehabilitation and doctor's appointments.
Police chiefs in New Hampshire are saying that this law makes penalties no severe enough to punish DWI offender. Chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, Rep. Laura Pantelakos (D-Portsmouth), had this to say about the Bill:
“First-time offenders don't sit in a different class than everybody else,” Pantelakos said. “Ninety days [of license suspension] gives people a chance to understand they've done something wrong.”
Other politicians feel differently. The Bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook), believes that the loss of a license is too steep of a consequence and many first time offenders end up losing their jobs because they are not able to get to work regularly. He also says that this can hurt tax payers too as some who cannot drive become dependent on government assistance to care for their families.
The biggest issue police have with this new bill is how it will be enforced. They say there will be no way for officers to tell where a driver is actually going when they say they are on their way to work to the doctor's office. Executive Director of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, Pat Sullivan, told Foster's the following:
it would be cumbersome for police to enforce a law that would allow some people to drive some of the time, especially since there may be no way of verifying where they are going to or coming from. On top of that, people don't just drive back and forth to work, Sullivan said.
While there may be some truth to this fear, the bill also requires drivers to install an ignition interlock device. This will ensure that the vehicle cannot be driven by a person who has consumed alcohol. Even if an offender uses their license to drive some place other than the specified locations, police will not have to worry about them being a danger to the public.
Many see this as a win win because offenders get to keep their jobs and other drivers do not have to fear drunk drivers. Many drivers who lose their license to a DWI offense continue to drive anyway. In fact, the article mentions that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has shown interlocks reduce repeat offenses by 67% and are more effective license suspension alone.
Fatal auto accidents were at their highest level in 5 years in 2013. In response, law enforcement and lawmakers have been working on ways to make roads safer. Before this Bill was passed, New Hampshire was one of the very few states that did not offer limited licenses to first time offenders. Even though this bill gives more people the ability to drive, with the use of interlock devices, repeat DWI rates may actually decrease.