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Saturday, February 15, 2003

Device Helps DWI Offenders Drive Sober

By Kate Nash
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE For a year, state Sen. Phil Griego couldn't start his Ford F150 without blowing into a plastic box locked to his ignition.
    The device put there after a DWI conviction in 2001 helped change his life, the Democratic lawmaker from San Jose said Friday.
    To stop repeat DWI offenders, Griego wants others who've been convicted of drunken driving to get back on track legally.
    Right now, thousands of people who have had their licenses revoked because of a DWI conviction drive without permission, he said.
    But a bill (SB 501) sponsored by Griego aims to fix that. The bill, approved by members of the Senate Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Friday, would create a new license in New Mexico that would allow people whose licenses have been revoked, and who apply for the new license, to drive only vehicles that have ignition interlock devices.
    The box, which has an initial cost of $120 and a daily cost of $2, works, Griego said.
    "I know because it worked for me. It helped me drive safe and it helped me drive sober. It helped me in the recovery of my alcoholism," he said.
    Under current law, revoked license holders can apply for a temporary, limited permit. But getting that permit as Griego did so he could perform his Senate duties and work at a title company is very difficult and requires many steps, he said.
    Other proponents of the new license told the committee the device is a boon that will reduce drunken driving more than impounding cars or locking up offenders.
    "It's almost as if you have a psychologist with you in the car on a daily basis," Bill Eisenhood, a former Albuquerque television weatherman who had the device in his car for a year, told the Senate committee. "It's a little reminder that you have a problem."
    Sen. Kent Cravens, R-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the ignition interlock technology is rapidly expanding, like that of seat belts or air bags.
    "My wish list is that every car manufactured in America will come with this device," he said.
    Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are expected to hear the bill next. The measure is one of dozens lawmakers are considering during their 60-day session that are aimed at dropping New Mexico's DWI rate.