For drivers in New Mexico who believe it’s okay to risk drinking just a little bit, penalties are about to get a great deal stiffer. State Representative Brian Egolf has introduced legislation directed at persons convicted of drunken driving in New Mexico and ordered to utilize an ignition interlock device: They will no longer be able to purchase alcohol. Beyond traditional alcohol retailers, that includes convenience stores and even restaurants.
New Mexico ranks eighth among all states in the number of fatalities from automobile crashes related to alcohol consumption. That’s actually an improvement, since it ranked fourth about a decade ago.
Egolf saw the need for the legislation because too many people with alcohol-related convictions are able to skirt current restrictions. He described watching a man with an ignition interlock device as he purchased a Coke along with three mini-bottles of whiskey. He then blew into his interlock ignition device, and once the car was started he poured the whiskey into his Coke, set the drink into his cup holder, and took off.
The court requires anybody convicted of drunken driving to have the device installed. Usually, for a first offense, it must remain in place for a year. But many people tell the court that they do not have access to a car. There are many others who simply don’t buy the device.
The House passed it by an overwhelming vote of 59 to 5, and it was referred to a Senate Judiciary Committee which recommends its passage. Among the 5 congressmen who voted against it, Congressman Antonio Maestas based his opposition on the law’s failure to require addiction treatment for drunken driving. It will simply create more criminals convicted of drunken driving in New Mexico, he says.
The executive director of the D.W.I. Resource Center located in Albuquerque stated that the bill may not have any effect on reducing the numbers of people injured or killed from alcohol-related auto accidents. She believes that people who want to drink will always find a way to buy alcohol.
There may be some irony in the director’s statement since the top headline displayed recently on the agency’s website indicated that traffic deaths have reached a five-year high. During the first nine months of 2012, about 40 percent of all traffic fatalities involved alcohol.
This law will also most likely be opposed by owners of restaurants and convenience stores responsible for checking driver’s licenses. It states that those who violate the law can be charged with a misdemeanor, but the fourth time someone sells alcohol to someone with a marked driver’s license the consequences will be prosecution for a fourth-degree felony.
Nevertheless, insists Egolf, even if the bill isn’t perfect, it will save families. He points to an auto accident that occurred the same week as the vote on the legislation in which the driver was suspected of drinking, injuring a pregnant woman.
Many people who drink regularly refuse to admit that they suffer from drinking problems. However, once someone is convicted of a drunken driving offense, it’s time to recognize the need for some kind of treatment for alcohol abuse or dependency.