Tuesday, February 08, 2005

LEGISLATOR STRIKES DWI BLOW

Rep. W. Ken Martinez has two bills before the Legislature that deal with DWI. They require the use of an "interlock device" on the motor vehicles of persons convicted of DWI. HB 282. Further, by his HB 565, Rep. Martinez looks to the future and defines "interlock device" to include technologies or techniques which may be in existence or may be developed, to accomplish the same end. The end sought to be accomplished, is a motor vehicle which cannot be started nor driven by an impaired driver.

Rep. Martinez is not proposing that all motor vehicles licensed in New Mexico be fitted with such a device, but that such a device be fitted to the motor vehicle of the convicted DWI defendant. When the technology gets in use and is fully accepted, and it becomes convenient and economical and foolproof, perhaps it can be required on all State vehicles first, then on all motor vehicles licensed in this State. So when you buy that new Ford sedan, it comes with a device that makes it impossible to start or drive by an impaired driver. Such an interlock device will cost a fraction of the air bag, and may save many more lives.

In HB 565, Rep. Martinez seeks to level the playing field among the various companies which make devices to prevent impaired driving. The bill defines "interlock" to include other technologies approved by the Traffic Bureau. This will enable the new technology being developed at Sandia Laboratories to be adapted for the purpose, if the developers so choose. That is an ignition key that requires the operator to lay her forearm on a screen that will detect alcohol in the bloodstream. Pupillometry as a drug and alcohol testing tool may be adapted to the driver’s seat. Essex County, New Jersey, Probation Department has information on that subject. This technique requires a base line, but that should not prevent its use if adapted. Look into the eye holes and your car will start unless you are impaired.

Bracelets are now in use for the ankle which detect alcohol in the blood stream. They can be used to prevent consumption of alcohol, but are not specifically designed to disable the car when an impaired driver is behind the wheel. The technology exists to fit the convict with two wrist-watch size bracelets, and through a computer program determine whether the wearer is operating a motor vehicle. So with present technology we can make a person stay home (electronic bracelet); or make him stop drinking (alcohol bracelet); or prevent him from driving (two bracelets and a computer program); or prevent him from being in a moving vehicle (GPS and bracelet). The interlock device is designed to prevent the offender from driving while impaired. That leaves the offender free to drink, or to drive, but not to do both at the same time. The idea seems best designed to solve the problem, and it concentrates on the vehicle.

The beauty of the approach being taken by Rep. Martinez, with HB 282 and HB 565, is that we are able to take advantage of proven technology to accomplish a great deal toward preventing DWI now; and we are keeping the door open for future technology. Thirty years ago Bill Gates made a computer in Albuquerque. Maybe a young Bill Gates will come up with a technique or device which will require that operators of airplanes, boats, motor vehicles, and other dangerous machinery and equipment be unimpaired. Meanwhile, the interlock legislation has been shown to be worthy of support.

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