By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
May 30, 2013
RALEIGH — A bill aimed at keeping drunken drivers off the highway got a little further down the road Thursday with a favorable report from the House Finance Committee.
“During my tenure of nearly 14 years serving as a lobbyist in the North Carolina General Assembly and addressing numerous pieces of alcohol-related legislation, I have never seen a bill with more promise for effectively addressing the problem of drunk driving than this particular bill,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
H 536, one of several DWI-related bills filed by Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake) this session, would require that any driver convicted of a DWI have an ignition interlock system installed on whatever vehicle he or she drives before applying for a limited driving privilege. Although it had been amended in Judiciary to apply only to drivers with an alcohol level of .13 or higher, an amendment proposed by Rep. Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell) and approved by the committee brought the level back to the .08 legal limit.
After sponsors addressed questions regarding provisions for the indigent to afford the interlocks, the availability and certification process for vendors supplying the technology and the penalties for those caught circumventing the law, the committee gave its endorsement with many members expressing high hopes for the bill’s success in decreasing the number of accidents involving drunken driving.
Rep. Bill Brawley (R-Mecklenburg) said the bill was no panacea, but was definitely a move in the right direction.
“Are we trying to have the perfect answer? No. What we are trying to do is to reduce the number of people that are driving around impaired at 10 o’clock on Friday night when our kids are on the way home from the movie or the basketball game and reduce the chances that somebody’s going to die because someone else doesn’t have enough control not to have five drinks in two hours,” Brawley said.
He said the measure would “take a dent out of the number of people who will be crying for dead loved ones in the coming two years who died simply because someone else was able to drive a car while impaired because there wasn’t a device to stop them.”
Rep. Jackson told the committee the bill was aimed at keeping first-time DWI arrestees from becoming repeat offenders.
“Looking at other states and scientific research, mandatory ignition interlock is the way to do that,” he said, noting research that shows it can cut repeat offense rates by more than 60 percent.
“This bill is designed for somebody who has made a mistake one time — not to punish them — but to put in the car, basically a second passenger … to make sure that person is not drinking and driving,” Rep. Jackson added.
Dr. Creech, who also serves as president of the American Council on Alcohol Problems, said research shows that the average intoxicated driver has driven as many as 80 times before his or her first DWI arrest. To help address the issue, the ACAP passed a resolution last year calling for states to enact legislation requiring that ignition interlocks be installed on all vehicles of DWI offenders.
Rep. Jackson said interlock ignitions are also being encouraged by the federal government, which is offering some $200 million in grants for states that make the technology mandatory. He said North Carolina should eventually qualify for up to $23 million a year if the law is passed.
Under the bill, those charged with DWI who seek a driving privilege would be required to pay for having the system placed on their car’s ignition and monthly monitoring fees unless they are indigent, in which case a state fund would pay only for installation.
Rep. Jonathon Jordan, another of the bill’s sponsors, pointed out that cost is roughly $2 per day, not much more than that of a soda or two.
He called the bill a win-win situation because it “protects the safety of the public; it protects the safety of the driver; and it allows the driver to get to a business, to get to a job to support their family.”
Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford) said the bill could even help prevent some domestic violence incidents by helping offenders avoid the downward spiral that sometimes begins with a driving while impaired charge. He said when a husband and father who has a drinking problem gets caught for DWI and loses his license, he often loses his job in the process and finds himself stuck at home where he may wind up drinking more.
“This approach says, rather than having someone arrested, taking away their driver’s license, which causes some of these other problems to crop up, let’s have them drive but let’s control the environment that they are driving in,” he said. “Let’s allow them to drive to work and back; let’s allow them to drive in other limited ways, but let’s be sure they can’t do it if they are drinking.”
Dr. Creech said he is glad to see lawmakers embracing the wisdom of this proposed initiative and hopes to see the bill come to the House floor. If passed by the House and Senate, it would take effect Dec. 1.