A North Carolina panel will recommend sweeping changes in the way the state attacks drunken driving, with proposals ranging from increased sobriety checkpoints to revisions aimed at convicting more drivers who test over the legal alcohol limit, reports the Charlotte Observer. The Governor’s Task Force on Driving While Impaired agreed on more than 30 proposals that will go to Gov. Mike Easley in mid-January. The Observer has reported on how thousands of DWI suspects who test over the alcohol limit avoid court punishment and treatment. When such DWI suspects plead not guilty and go to trial, N.C. judges acquit more than a third of them, the Observer found. The law says people can’t drive with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, but doesn’t specify how judges should determine a suspect’s alcohol level. Some judges with low conviction rates say they don’t always believe the Intoxilyzer, the device commonly used to test alcohol levels.
The task force is recommending a change in the law to make it clear that a reading of 0.08 or more on the Intoxilyzer would be enough for a conviction. The task force wasn’t charged with determining how much its recommendations would cost or how to raise money to pay for them. But many members expressed support for doubling the beer tax, to 60 cents a six-pack. That would likely bring the state almost $90 million more per year. The Observer reported that N.C. prosecutors dismiss more than 10,000 DWI cases a year, mainly because police officers or the suspects themselves fail to appear in court. When defendants don’t show up, judges usually order police to arrest them. State statistics suggest that those suspects are rarely caught.