House passes two DWI bills

Posted March 9, 2015
Updated March 10, 2015

— House lawmakers made short work Monday night of two bills strengthening penalties against repeat impaired drivers.

House Bill 31 and House Bill 32, both sponsored by Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, passed with overwhelming support.

"We have a real problem with chronic DWI in this state," Jackson told fellow House members. "It was brought home this weekend when we had another DWI fatality in Wake County."

House Bill 31 changes the license condition rules for first-time driving while impaired offenders. Under current law, those without a court-required interlock system – they are generally imposed for bodily injury accidents or very high blood-alcohol limits – who get their license back after a year are allowed to drive for the next three years with a blood-alcohol content of up to 0.04, which is half the level at which drivers are considered impaired under North Carolina law. The bill would make that zero alcohol for the restricted period.

"I think that's a bad public policy," Jackson said of the current law. "I think a better way to address the issue is to tell people, 'You made a mistake. We understand that. Here's your license back...just don't drive after drinking.'"

Some lawmakers expressed concern that the bill would change the rules for drivers with ignition Breathalyzer cut-off switches, which are typically set to 0.02 percent because certain medications or foods can in some cases register a false low reading. But Jackson said the bill would not affect those cases.

The measure passed 110-4.

House Bill 32 would change the definition of a felony habitual DWI offender. Under current law, a drunk driver must earn four convictions within 10 years to be subject to felony habitual offender prosecution. The bill would subject a drunk driver to such charges on his or her third offense, with no time limit.

In 2013, Jackson said, 33 percent of all fatal accidents in North Carolina involved an impaired driver.

Jackson rattled off a list of other crimes that are felonies under state law on the first or second offense, from writing bad checks to possessing a slot machine.

"If you walk out of the chamber today and someone slaps you, that's a felony," he said. "What does it say to people that you have to have four offenses of driving on our roads while impaired, possibly risking their lives and our lives, and we wait till that point to make it a felony?"

The bill also does away with the 10-year time limit for DWI history. Jackson and other supporters said the time limit had allowed some habitual drunk drivers to escape felony prosecution due to the timing of their past convictions.

House Bill 32 passed 112-2.

The pair of bills now moves to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. House members overwhelmingly passed nearly identical legislation in the 2013 session, but Senate leaders declined to take it up.


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  • Kathryn Adams Mar 10, 2015
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    Probably because that other 67% includes MANY other causes, like driving distracted, driver fatigue, speeding, aggressive driving, and weather-related crashes. Drunk-driving is just one of the largest single causes, and it's also the one that involves premeditation (you have to make the choice to get behind the wheel while intoxicated).

  • Joseph Smith Mar 10, 2015
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    Hmm, so 67% of fatal accidents don't involve a drunk driver. Why are they not increasing penalties for the causes of the 67%? Seems the priority is misplaced.

  • Proudly Unaffiliated Mar 10, 2015
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    This is the downside of any herd thinking. The GOP did the easy thing by increasing penalties for drunk driving, which won't do a dang thing to stop or even address the problem. I wonder how hard the drunk driver lobby will push back? (Rhetorical question, there is NO opposition to this because if there is then YOU support drink drivers.) I say we all vote to see who supports motherhood and apple pie! Who is against us?

  • Erik Bisson Mar 10, 2015
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    A 'Victory' indeed against individuals who put themselves and others at risk for their poor choices on the road. There is no excuse for putting lives needlessly at risk. Keeping our great state and nation safe, keep it up.

  • Paul Stroud Mar 10, 2015
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    @JEFF JOHNSON, then perhaps, just perhaps, they shouldn't be drinking and driving. It's not like this is a new law, or a new problem. It's got nothing to do with bloated government it's got to do with keeping our roads and families safe.

  • Charlie Watkins Mar 10, 2015
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    I would love for North Carolina to be known as the state with the most harsh drunk driving laws in the US. People who drive and drink should pay the severest of penalties. Kudos to those legislators who want to decrease drunk driving and protect the sober citizens!

  • Jeff Johnson Mar 10, 2015
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    Normally I support the GOP, but this bill is a clear sign of the GOPs lack of understanding and tolerance. Zero tolerance should be a catch-phrase, not a standard. Letting the courts hand all cases above zero is inviting an unnecessary economic burden on tax payers who are being crushed by our already bloated government.