CONCORD — New Hampshire could let newly convicted drunken drivers continue to drive.
State lawmakers will consider giving judges the discretion to allow first-time offenders to stay on the road, providing they can prove a need to drive and use vehicle ignition systems that test their sobriety.
It would limit driving to keeping or getting a job, attending treatment programs, receiving medical care or taking a member of their immediate family for health-care appointments.
The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee has recommended passage of House Bill 496 on a 17-1 vote.
It has the backing of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but will face opposition from New Hampshire’s police chiefs.
The bill’s sponsor, House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, was named a “legislative champion” by MADD for his work on the legislation.
“I’m very pleased with the committee’s 17-1 bipartisan vote,” Shurtleff said. “They took a good bill and made it better.”
The bill is expected before the full House in early January.
Shurtleff is confident the legislation will protect the public from drunken drivers.
“This is with the discretion of the court,” Shurtleff said.
Studies show as many as 70 percent of first-time offenders still try to drive, despite their convictions, he said.
The interlock system protects the public by keeping vehicles from being turned on by drunken drivers, Shurtleff said.
“This keeps drunken drivers off the road,” he said.
The units, about the size of a TV remote control, are wired to the ignition system. A driver must blow into the device. If there is too much alcohol in the driver’s system, the units can disable the vehicle.
Shurtleff maintains his bill would help families of drunken drivers, by assuring they don’t also pay a price because of a single bad decision by someone who drove while drinking.