The new year brings with it some new changes to the state’s drinking and driving laws, aimed at reducing the number of repeat offenders.
A handful of changes in Nebraska’s DUI laws went into effect Jan. 1, with perhaps the most significant change involves the use of ignition interlock devices. The new law passed by the Nebraska Legislature allows someone arrested for DUI, first offense, to forgo the 30-day license revocation that is automatic with most DUI arrests in exchange for six months of using the interlock device.
In 2010, 53 people in Nebraska died in alcohol-related crashes and another 790 were injured. Research studies have shown that the use of ignition interlocks reduces repeat drunk driving offenses by an average of 64 percent. After a law that required ignition interlocks was enacted in New Mexico in 2002, preliminary results of a study showed that the devices reduced alcohol-related injury crashes by approximately 32 percent.
Advocates for the changes in the laws say they see interlocks as a lifesaving device that should be mandatory. License revocations sound good, but are constantly abused - it doesn’t stop people from driving, just driving legally.
The interlock device on the other hand does not allow a vehicle to be started if the driver has been drinking. The device is connected to the car’s electrical system, and the driver must blow into the breath analyzer for five seconds. If the analyzer detects the alcohol level is above the legal limit, the device’s computer prevents the car’s ignition from allowing the car to start.
DUI offenders placed on probation have had the option in the past of installing the interlock device in their vehicle, but they were only allowed to drive from home to work and to the interlock device facility. The new law gives offenders more incentive to use the device, and allows them to drive from home to work, school, substance abuse treatment, probation offices, health care services, court ordered community responsibilities and interlock service facilities.
The Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles reports that their research indicates use of ignition interlock devices reduces repeat drunk driving offenses by an average of 64 percent. Similar laws to the one passed in Nebraska have also been passed in Kansas and Iowa.
DUI offenders, with the current law, generally have their license automatically revoked for 90 days. After a minimum of 30 days of suspension the offender could get an interlock, but only if the court case had been completed and the judge had ordered it. However, instead of getting the interlock most offenders request a work permit for the final 60 days of suspension, or worse yet just drive illegally hoping to not get caught.
To put it simply, the program wasn’t working. Instead, a system was created which allowed drivers arrested to stay on the road legally for months, and many who did get suspensions continued to drive anyway. State records show that of the 13,000 drunken drivers a year arrested in Nebraska, just over 2,000 have been getting interlocks.
One of the incentives the state is instituting in an effort to encourage more use of interlocks is increasing the period of revocation. Under the new law a first-offense drunken driver will face a 180-day license revocation, which is double the term under previous law. Alternately, however, the driver can immediately apply for an interlock and be allowed to drive during the entire six months.
The incentive to contest an ALR revocation will also be taken away. If the driver requests a hearing and loses, they will have to wait until the court case is completed to drive with an interlock, a process that can take up to six months.
The state’s criminal law will also now require interlocks in nearly all DUI sentences. Judges typically allow offenders credit for any time already served on interlock, which gives offenders added incentive to get one right away.
DUI is an enhanceable offense under Nebraska statute, meaning the court can look back in the offender’s record for any prior offenses to determine if the charge may be a second offense. The law had previously allowed the courts to look back 12 years, but under the new law effective Jan. 1, the court can now look back 15 years. Previously, anyone charge with a DUI prior to 1999 couldn’t be charged with a second offense if arrested; the law now moves that date back to 1997.
That difference, though only three years, can be huge when it comes to first or second offense DUI. Offenders could now be looking at 14 years of suspension as opposed to one year under previous law.
The changes in the laws also allow officers to administer numerous breath, blood or urine tests to offenders. In the past they could only ask for one.
“This law improves public safety by removing a drunk driver from the road as quickly as possible,” said Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman. “The DMV conducts 6,000 administrative hearings annually. This law will streamline the process for law enforcement, the DMV and the DUI offender. By using the ignition interlock device, offenders can continue to drive to work and go to school, but only if they are driving safe and sober.”
“The goal of the Nebraska’s new administrative license revocation program is to offer an obvious choice to DUI offenders – No Interlock, No Keys. It’s that simple,” said Beverly Neth, Director of the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles. “Through LB 667, we have found a way to ensure public safety with effective monitoring of a DUI offender and to reduce the costs of the administrative program for law enforcement, the courts, and the DMV.”
“This law will work to stop drivers from operating motor vehicles while impaired by allowing the state to more quickly intervene following an arrest for DUI,” said Sen. Mike Flood, speaker of the Nebraska Legislature and sponsor of LB 667.
DUI offenders arrested as of Jan. 1, 2012, may be eligible to apply for an ignition interlock permit and should contact the DMV at (402) 471-3985 to determine if they are eligible. Additional information about ignition interlocks can be found at www.ClickDMV.ne.gov .