Louisiana governor signs tougher DWI law

| 7/23/2007

Gov. Kathleen Blanco has signed a bill into law that gets tough with drivers in Louisiana who get behind the wheel after drinking too much. It takes effect Aug. 15.

The new law, previously HB652, requires 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.

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

The interlocks are hooked up to the ignitions of vehicles. Once such a 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 will face the loss of their license for 24 months. Existing state law calls for a 12-month ban. Subsequent convictions will result in three year bans instead of two.

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

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

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