A bill passed by the Nebraska Legislature on Wednesday will allow people convicted of drunken driving to get their licenses back sooner.
LB736 would require an ignition interlock device to be installed into the vehicles of convicted drunk drivers. The device works like a breathalyzer; in order to start the car, the driver has to blow into the device and register under a .02 blood alcohol content.
Current law allows, but does not require, that the device be installed in motorists' vehicles after they have been convicted of driving under the influence three or more times.
Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln said he was motivated to introduce the bill after reading a newspaper article last summer about a drunken driver who killed another man while driving. The man's license had been taken away after a previous DUI.
"He cut another man's life short," Fulton said. "And for the first time in my tenure, I realized I could do something about it."
Just because the state takes a convicted drunken driver's license away does not mean they are going to stop driving, said Sam Reynolds, the executive director of Mothers Against Driving in Nebraska. She said 75 percent of people whose licenses are revoked for drunken driving continue to drive.
Although Fulton normally describes himself as a person who is "tough on crime," he said this bill isn't written to increase the punishment of drunk drivers.
Under current law, a person can have their license revoked for up to six months after their first DUI conviction. LB736 will let them get a restricted license after two months.
The bill adds new technology to the current system to try to decrease the number of repeat offenses, Fulton said.
"They are going to be on probation, so they're not supposed to be using alcohol," Reynolds said. "They're not like the rest of us."
The offender will have to pay an installation fee for the device, as well as about $2 a day, which Fulton mentioned is about the cost of a drink.
After the machine is installed in the car, the offender will get a restrictive drivers permit and will be allowed to drive to work, school and alcohol treatment classes.
Fulton said he looked into ways people might be able to fool the system, such as having someone else blow into the device. He said some of the companies have added digital cameras, voice recognition software and tougher chemical testing to make the machines harder to trick.
"They still get to be productive, and we are assured they are not consuming alcohol." Reynolds said. "Its not being soft on crime. It's just being smart."
The bill passed with a 43-0 vote. It awaits the governor's signature and will likely go into effect next January.
"People will be alive in the future who otherwise wouldn't be if we didn't pass this bill." Fulton said. "And I can say that with statistical certainty."
© 2008 Daily Nebraskan via U-WIRE