RALEIGH N.C. (WNCN) – A bill, which passed the North Carolina House Wednesday, aims at making it easier for people to get in-car breathalyzers, or interlock systems, in their cars without waiting the current 45-day minimum to install it.
The interlock sytem is optional for first-time DWI offenders but required for repeat offenders or anyone who is convicted of a .15 blood alcohol level or higher.
Current law requires a 45-day waiting period for convicted DWI offenders to install the system.
Supporters of the bill say the six-week wait makes it harder for offenders to get back to everyday life.
“During which a person can’t get to work, they can’t get their kids to school, they can’t get their kids to daycare and they already have expenses related to the DWI that have to be paid,” North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association director Eddie Caldwell said.
The bill does not change other DWI laws or punishments from first time to more serious charges, including suspending someone’s license.
But for those offenders that have an agreement to drive with an interlock system, the bill will remove the wait 45-day wait to install it. It also includes financial assistance for those who can’t pay for an interlock system.
“This is not a radical to departure from anything, it is allowing people, which is what we’ve been hearing people ask for, is to get people back to work,” bill sponsor, Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Allegeheney) said.
Caldwell said he believes allowing interlocks sooner after a DWI will keep people from illegally getting back on the road.
“When you have folks that can’t find a reasonable way to get to work, or reasonable way to get their kids to school, or get their kids to daycare, then often what happens is folks do it anyway in conflict with the law,” Caldwell said.
Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) spoke out against the bill.
She believes interlock driving requirements should depend on a case-by-case basis.
“This is taking away a lot of discretion on a case by case analysis of people who are blowing over twice the legal limit, who may have prior convictions,” Morey said. “There are a lot of questions to this, are we being more lenient with drunk driving?”
The group Mothers Against Drunk Driving also endorsed the bill which passed the House 84–8.
“MADD NC supports this bill because we know ignition interlocks save lives. According to the CDC , interlocks reduce repeat drunk driving offenses by 67%,” director Jennifer Lichtneger said. “An ignition interlock is more effective than license suspension alone as up to 75% of convicted drivers continue to drive on suspended licenses. Our hope is that this legislation will get more ignition interlocks in vehicles and before there is a chance to re-offend.”
Lichtneger said the bill is aimed at more first-time offenders.
“This is with the hopes that more people will get ignition interlocks in their vehicles quicker.”
The bill will go back to the Senate for a final vote.
To see a breakdown on the different levels of DWI offenses and enforcement in the state, click here.