The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee says he wants Vermont to study special ignition locks for repeat drunken drivers that would require a clean breath test before allowing a car to be started.
“My intention here is to increase safety on the highways of Vermont,” said Rep. William Lippert, D-Hinesburg.
But he said legislation likely will have to wait until next year, given the limited amount of time left in the current session.
“It’s an issue we’ll probably engage in more directly in early 2009, but the interest is certainly there.”
Gov. Jim Douglas said he likely would support the legislation. “I would be open to it,” he said. “We need to think of ways to reduce the carnage on our highways.”
The locks, used in all but Vermont and four other states, require a driver to breathe into a sensor to show no alcohol intoxication before starting the car.
The discussion comes partly in response to an outcry from residents from the Franklin County area, who have been pushing for tougher DUI laws since the death in November of a Swanton youth, 18-year-old Nick Fournier, at the hands of a drunken driver.
Shawn Burritt, 33, of Jericho, had three previous drunken driving convictions and was driving a borrowed car with a suspended license when he went the wrong way on Interstate 89 and crashed into the car in which Fournier was a passenger.
Burritt, who told police he had had eight or nine beers at a Colchester bar before the crash, pleaded guilty last week to driving under the influence, causing a fatality, and leaving the scene of a crash. He was given a 10-to-20-year prison term.
Lawmakers also are weighing legislation that would add to the list of drugs someone might be on to be considered to be driving under the influence.
“Right now, if someone took Ambien (sleeping pill) and got in their car and killed someone, they could not be prosecuted for DUI,” said Stuart Schurr, the traffic safety prosecutor for the Vermont Association of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs. “That’s because it is not a regulated drug.”
But some advocates and lawmakers worried that a person legitimately taking a prescription drug might end up charged with DUI.
“Showing that a drug might affect a person is a completely different standard,” said Defender General Matthew Valerio. “It can’t be the mere presence of the drug in the system, it has to be the impact on the person.”
Information from: Rutland Herald, http://www.rutlandherald.com/
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