Louisiana lawmakers OK tougher DWI law

| 7/11/2007

The Louisiana Legislature was able to reach agreement on a bill that would get tough with drivers in the state who get behind the wheel after drinking too much.

House and Senate lawmakers unanimously approved a compromise version of a bill that would require drivers convicted of a first drunken-driving offense to lose their licenses for a year. State law now requires a loss of driving privileges for 90 days.

Sponsored by Rep. Ernest Wooton, R-Belle Chasse, the bill – HB652 – now heads to Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s desk. She can sign it, let it become law without her signature, or veto it.

First-time offenders could obtain a “hardship license” if they have an ignition interlock device installed on their primary vehicle. The license would only be valid for drivers to travel back and forth to work, school or church.

The interlock is hooked up to the ignition of the vehicle. Once the device is installed, a driver must blow into a mouthpiece, which measures the amount of alcohol on a person’s breath. If the driver blows clean, the car will then start; if not, it won’t budge.

In addition, the devices often require drivers to re-blow in the machine after a designated period of time, to ensure that they have not convinced someone else to blow into the mouthpiece for them, or that they haven’t been drinking since getting behind the wheel.

Advocates for stricter drunken driving rules cite statistics that show drivers who are convicted on driving while intoxicated charges for the first time usually have driven drunk 87 times before being caught. They also point out that Louisiana had 451 alcohol-related highway deaths last year, the second highest in the nation.

Repeat offenders would face the loss of their license for 24 months. Existing state law calls for a 12-month ban. Subsequent convictions would result in three year bans instead of two.

Drivers who choose to obtain hardship licenses would be required to have the ignition interlock installed for the duration of their license suspensions.

The cost of installing the devices would be the driver’s responsibility. They typically run about $125 to install and $65 per month to maintain and recalibrate, The Times-Picayune reported.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Louisiana in 2007, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor