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Limited driver licenses in NH

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NH Police Officers Do Not Support Limited Licenses for DWI Defendants

A respected local newspaper, Foster’s Daily Democrat, recently reported that law enforcement officials throughout New Hampshire are thoroughly opposed to new changes in New Hampshire’s state laws that would enable first time DWI offenders to travel to and from medical appointments and their places of employment. This discussion was sparked after a new bill was passed last month that allow first time DWI offenders to obtain limited driver’s licenses in order to legally travel to and from doctors’ appointments, rehabilitation, and work.

If the bill becomes a new law, a first time offender convicted of a DWI would have the legal right to petition a judge and request to receive a limited driver’s license. If the defendant is determined to be eligible for the limited license, then he or she would legally be allowed to drive to and from specific places for specific purposes after a mandatory, two week period of revocation had been served. In order to receive the limited license, an offender would be required to pay an application fee of $50.00 and equip their automobile with an enhanced ignition interlock device.

Police chiefs throughout New Hampshire are stating that this new series of laws makes the legal penalties for a DWI conviction less than adept at adequately punishing a DWI offender. Representative Laura Pantelakos, the current Chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, released the following statement concerning the bill:

First-time offenders don't sit in a different class than everybody else,” Pantelakos said. “Ninety days [of license suspension] gives people a chance to understand they've done something wrong.”

Pantelakos was the only representative to vote against the bill’s passage when it was presented before the Committee. The bill was passed by a vote of 16-1.

However, there are other politicians who feel differently about the situation. Democratic Representative Steve Shurtleff, the primary sponsor of the new bill, has stated his belief that the loss of a person’s driving privileges is too severe of a consequence, and the majority of first time DWI offenders see a conviction result in the loss of their primary means of employment simply because they do not have reliable transportation to and from their place of employment. Furthermore, it is his contention that this loss of employment is harmful to the state’s taxpayers, because a sizable percentage of DWI offenders who cannot drive an automobile become dependent upon government assistance in order to care for their families.

The primary issue that many police chiefs and officers have raised regarding the new bill is exactly how it will be enforced. Officers believe that there will be no accurate or reliable method of ensuring a motorist is going where they actually say they are, like work or the doctor’s office. Furthermore, the Association believes that the single best deterrent for preventing intoxicated motorists from getting behind the wheel of a car is license suspension. Pat Sullivan, the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Association of Police Chiefs, issued the following statement to Foster’s:

“It would be cumbersome for police to enforce a law that would allow some people to drive some of the time, especially since there may be no way of verifying where they are going to or coming from. On top of that, people don't just drive back and forth to work. “

While these fears certainly could be well-grounded, the new bill also requires, as aforementioned, first time DWI offenders who receive a limited driver’s license to have ignition interlock devices installed on all automobiles that they driver or operate on a regular basis. Offenders must pay the installation and maintenance fees for these devices out of their own pocket. Such a requirement ensures that the automobile cannot be driven by any individual who has consumed alcohol. Should an offender use their limited license to transport themselves to another location other than one specified under the law, police officers do not have to worry about that motorist endangering the general public.

Many lawmakers and New Hampshire citizens are viewing the passage of this new bill as a win-win scenario because first time offenders are able to retain their jobs and other motorists do not have to suffer from an additional fear of intoxicated drivers. Recent studies have demonstrated that motorists who lose their driving privileges because of a DWI conviction often continue to drive anyways. In fact, in the aforementioned Foster’s article, it mentions that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has demonstrated that ignition interlock devices frequently reduce repeat DWI offenses by an average of 67% and are significantly more effective that the suspension of driving privileges alone.

In 2013, both in New Hampshire and across the United States, fatal automobile accidents were at their highest levels within 5 years. In 2013, approximately 133 individuals lost their lives in alcohol related crashes on New Hampshire’s roadways. As a response, lawmakers and law enforcement officials have been designing and enacting methods of ensuring that our state’s roadways are made safer. Prior to the passage of the new bill, New Hampshire was one of the only states in the country to not offer limited driver’s licenses to first time DWI offenders. Even though the new bill offers more individuals the ability to drive an automobile, with the use of ignition interlock devices, it is wholly possible that repeat DWI rates within our state could decrease.

To find out more about limited licenses in New Hampshire, or if you have been arrested for and charged with a DWI in our state, please contact our law firm today. Your initial consultation is 100% free, and we can be reached via telephone, email, or through our firm’s website. Each of our experienced and skilled New Hampshire DWI lawyers will take the time required to ensure that all of your questions are answered satisfactorily. In DWI cases, time is of the essence, so don’t take any unnecessary gambles with your future.

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