Tougher DWI law takes effect this week in Louisiana

| 8/13/2007

In an effort to make Louisiana roads safer, a new state law that gets tough with drivers who get behind the wheel after drinking too much takes effect Wednesday, Aug. 15.

Drivers convicted of a first drunken-driving offense will lose their licenses for a year. Until now, state law mandated a suspension of driving privileges for 90 days.

First-time offenders can still obtain a “hardship license,” but now must have an ignition interlock device installed on their primary vehicle. The hardship licenses are only valid for drivers to travel back and forth to work, school or church.

The interlock is hooked up to the ignition of vehicles. 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 licenses for 24 months. Existing state law calls for a 12-month suspension. Subsequent convictions would result in three-year suspensions 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 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 in New Orleans reported.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor