LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Advocates of ignition interlock devices want to close a loophole they say puts drunken drivers back on the roads.
Nearly 60 percent of alcohol-related traffic deaths in New Mexico last year involved a driver with more than one arrest or conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI), according to a report by the state Department of Transportation's Safety Bureau.
Impact DWI, a New Mexico advocacy group, is trying to change that by giving DWI offenders no choice but to stay sober.
"In spite of the fact that we have the best interlock laws in the nation for drunk drivers and their effectiveness is well proven, we still have a loophole that allows a large number of convicted drunk drivers to get around installing the device that actually helps them stay sober and keeps them from driving after they've been drinking," said Dr. Richard Roth, the executive director of Impact DWI.
New Mexico law requires anyone convicted of DWI to install interlock ignitions, or breathalyzers in their cars that lock up if they have alcohol on their breath.
Roth said about half of DWI offenders find a way around that.
"Offenders are claiming that they're not driving or that they do not have access to a vehicle. We know that they are driving because they are being arrested at a rate that is about four times the rate for offenders that install interlocks. You can't get rearrested unless you're driving," he told ABC-7.
Roth drafted a bill that would require offenders who claim they do not have cars to install breathalyzers in their homes instead.
They would have to blow into the device twice a day as part of their probation.
"You have to blow into the device and when you're doing so it takes your picture and records every blow. If the blow is above .025 that's a violation and it gets reported to the judge," Roth said.
Local interlock installers told ABC-7 that in-home breathalyzers may not solve the problem. They said people would find their way around the requirement just as they do with interlock ignitions.
Roth said he will continue to fight for stricter requirements.
"If a person doesn't think it's OK for a judge to mandate no drinking during probation for a person who's threatened the life of New Mexicans by driving when he's too impaired to drive safely, I'm not going to give in to that," Roth said.
Roth intends for the bill to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session starting Jan. 15.
He said Rep. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, authorized the drafting of the bill.
The bill has faced opposition in the past from people who say a judge has no authority to keep people from drinking in their homes.
Roth argued that staying away from alcohol is a basic part of probation for DWI offenders.