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DWI Bills Inspire Newspaper Editorials

Last month, the Raleigh News & Observer saw a battle of editorials relating to the bills in the North Carolina General Assembly that would require all people convicted of DWI to use an ignition interlock for a period of time. An editorial on July 23rd by the News & Observer Editorial Board argued for the proposed change. This editorial was met with a reply on August 1st from the Managing Director of the American Beverage Institute who argued against the change based on a lack of adequate funding for the required administrative costs.

Currently, North Carolina law only requires a judge to impose an interlock device as a condition to to granting a limited driving privilege if a driver’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.15 of more (G.S. 20-179.3(g5)). However, a judge may include in any limited driving privilege order the condition that a driver use an interlock device (G.S. 20-179.3(g3)).

In addition, if a driver’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.15 or more, he is required to have the interlock device as a condition to the restoration of his driver’s license at the end of the revocation period. G.S. 20-17.8(a) subjects any driver convicted of DWI to an interlock device following restoration of their license when

(1)    The person had an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more;

(2)    The person has been convicted of another offense involving impaired driving, which offense occurred within seven years immediately preceding the date of the offense for which the person's license has been revoked; or

(3)    The person was sentenced pursuant to G.S. 20-179(f3).

Effective December 1, 2016, G.S. 20-17.8 will also apply to those convicted of habitual driving while impaired.

If the original license revocation period was one year, then the period of time during which the driver must use the interlock device is also one year. If the original revocation period was four years, then the interlock device must be used for three years, and if the original revocation period was permanent, then the interlock device must be used for seven years. If a person violates the requirements in G.S. 20-17.8, they will be charged with driving with a revoked license pursuant to subsection (f).

Unlike the limited driving privilege section, the restoration of license section does not allow for the interlock condition to be imposed at the discretion of a judge. Instead, the Division of Motor Vehicles is required to impose the interlock condition upon the restoration of the license only when that section applies.

The bills currently in the North Carolina General Assembly would change the ignition interlock requirements so that anyone with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more would be required to use the device for either a limited driving privilege or the restoration of a driver’s license. In addition, anyone under the age of 21 who is convicted of driving after consuming alcohol would be required to use the device.

The News & Observer Editorial Board’s editorial from July 23rd argued that the bill proposing this change had bipartisan support and was sponsored by a Democrat and two Republican senators. Although a Durham senator argued that first-time offenders should not always be subject to the interlock condition and noted that such a condition could require an offender to pay up to $90 per month, the editorial stated that this argument did not seem to convince the other senators. One of the bill’s sponsors cited statistics which show that interlock devices can cut down on repeat offenders, which is one of the reasons that 26 other states already require an interlock device for all DWI offenders.

In addition, the Editorial Board’s editorial noted in support of its position that Mothers Against Drunk Driving has stated that “a huge percentage” of those DWI offenders who were involved in fatal accidents were first-time offenders. Studies also show that first-time offenders have likely driven while impaired many time prior to be being caught.

Although the Editorial Board noted that trial lawyers might oppose such a change in the legislation because more defendants will want jury trials rather than pleading, which will slow down the courts, it concluded that drunk driving is a bigger problem than slow courts and justifies these effects.

The reply editorial from the Managing Director of the American Beverage Institute argues that those offenders which the current law requires to use the interlock device (repeat offenders and high-BAC first-time offenders) make up 70% of the alcohol-related highway fatalities. Although requiring all offenders to use the interlock device would theoretically make all offenders safer, the editorial argues that the proposed legislation fails to take into consideration the administrative costs involved in enforcing the compliance with the interlock condition.

The editorial cites a statistic from the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration which estimates that only 15 to 20 percent of offenders install the interlock device because of lack of state funding for adequate follow-up on compliance with these requirements. The editorial goes on to argue that if more offenders are required to use an interlock device, then that percent of offenders who comply with the condition will drop. Therefore, there will be more offenders driving in violation of the required interlock condition. The editorial concludes with an alternative proposal which would extend the required interlock time period for those currently subject to this restriction instead of broadening the condition to all offenders.

It will be interesting to follow the progress of these bills, and we will watch for further developments.

If you have been charged with impaired driving, contact an attorney at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC (704) 714-1450, to discuss your options.

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