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N.H. Legislature Ponders ‘Cinderella Licenses’ After DWIs

The state Legislature is debating a law that would allow someone with a first drunk driving conviction to drive to and from work, substance abuse treatment sessions or medical appointments.

The law would create a “Cinderella license” provision that allows the first-time offender to drive during restricted hours and for restricted purposes.

Under current law, a first conviction results in a mandatory minimum loss of license for three months and up to nine months.

The proposed law has been debated by a House of Representatives committee. Professionals in the legal community differ on whether they think the law is a good idea.

“I think it’s an incredibly enlightened proposal,” said Ed Cross, a defense attorney with the Nashua Public Defender’s Office.

Loss of license is “supposed to be a punishment,” Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance said. “It’s supposed to be a deterrent. What’s the deterrent if you can drive your car to work?”

Under the proposed law, House Bill 496, the offender’s driving would be monitored through the use of an interlock ignition device — which doesn’t allow the vehicle to start if alcohol is detected on the breath.

Cross, whose job is sometimes to represent clients charged with drunk driving, said the current law hurts lower-income people struggling to support their family.

New Hampshire is largely a rural state with little mass transportation, Cross said.

A loss of a driver’s license often means a loss of job and a loss of the ability to support your family, he said.

Cross said he has had clients who expressed more anguish over the prospect of losing their job than over having to pay a hefty fine.

“This addresses a major problem,” Cross said.

LaFrance, whose job is to prosecute drunk drivers and other criminals, doesn’t see it that way.

“I don’t buy that argument,” LaFrance said of the lack of public transportation.

That’s something the person should have thought about before he or she decided to drink and drive, she said.

“Many people use their car primarily to get to and from work,” LaFrance said. “If you allow them to continue driving to work after they’ve had a drunk driving conviction, you aren’t punishing them, only inconveniencing them.”

Hudson Police Chief Jason Lavoie thinks the proposed law is at least worth considering.

“It’s definitely worth exploring and seeing how it works in other states,” Lavoie said.

But the restricted driving privileges should only extend to defendants who didn’t injury anybody when they drove drunk, Lavoie said.

He said he appreciates the efforts to allow a first-time offender to continue earning money for his family, Lavoie said.