More of Nevada's drunken driving offenders would have ignition interlock devices on their cars if a new bill passes, but some say the alcohol-detection technology is a cookie-cutter fix that's not appropriate in many drunken driving cases.
SB 66, sponsored by Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, and Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, would require people convicted of DUI with a 0.15 percent blood alcohol level to install an ignition interlock device on their cars that requires them to test the amount of alcohol on their breath before starting their car. Current law sets the threshold at 0.18 percent.
The bill also would remove an exception that allows people to skip installing the device if they can't afford it.
"After observing behavior of people with chronic DUIs, I've observed that interlock devices really do change behavior and save lives," Leslie told the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday.
About 20,000 DUI arrests are made in Nevada each year, while 761 interlock devices are in use in the state, according to the Nevada Department of Public Safety.
Sandy Haverly of the organization Stop DUI said she wished the technology was around in the 1980s, when she and her four children were involved in a ghastly collision with a repeat DUI offender.
But SB166 hit opposition among attorneys and public defenders, who said the bill took discretion away from judges and was too harsh for first-time offenders.
"We're operating under the assumption that everyone's a repeat offender," said attorney Lisa Rasmussen. "Some people only drink alcohol occasionally and are not high-risk."
Orrin Johnson of the Washoe County Public Defender's Office pointed out that having the offender pay for the interlock device - which costs $80 to $100 per month - would divert money from behavioral treatment programs to deal with the offender's addiction.
Carson City Justice of the Peace John Tatro said judges are very concerned about DUI offenders and worry about letting one out on the road and killing someone. But he stopped short of supporting the bill.
"I think the interlock is a good tool, and it's just that - a tool," Tatro said. "To give a cookie cutter sentence - it doesn't work."
Bill proponents pointed to states such as New Mexico, which instated a law requiring the devices for all first-time DUI offenders and saw drunk driving re-arrests drop 37 percent statewide and alcohol-related fatal accidents drop nearly 30 percent.
"Ignition interlocks will help save lives," said Frank Harris of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who referenced studies showing 50 to 75 percent of DUI offenders will drive even after their licenses are suspended. "The offender is going to drive anyway, so let's make sure we allow them to do so in a manner that protects the public."
No action was taken by the committee.