Motorists are ignoring safety equipment mandated by the courts and too many people are getting hammered using powdered alcohol, a Wyoming legislative committee learned Tuesday.
If you happen to do both, it really wasn’t your day. The House Judiciary Committee passed two bills: one aimed at enforcing the law requiring convicted drunken drivers to install ignition interlocks, and the second banning all powdered alcohol.
A Wyoming Department of Transportation (WyDOT) official told the panel nearly half of the motorists ordered to install the interlocks on their vehicle just ignore the law and either drive with a suspended license or not at all. The ignition interlock keeps drivers with DUIs from starting a car if their blood alcohol content (BAC) is .02 or greater.
A driver with a BAC of .08 or higher is considered legally intoxicated. The Legislature passed the ignition interlock bill six years ago to help reduce drunken driving.
Tom Loftin, head of WyDOT’s Driver Support Services, said 1,269 people required to install the interlocks have complied with the court mandate, but 1,169 others have not.
“They’re either ignoring the law and driving while their license is suspended, or they’re trying to wait out [the punishment] and just don’t drive at all,” the division director said.
Rep. Sam Krone (R-Cody) was confused. “Isn’t getting them off the streets the purpose of the program?” he asked.
Loftin said while the state obviously does not want people with DUIs to again drive while intoxicated, that’s not the whole point of the law. “It actually affects behavior,” he noted. “It teaches them to not drive after consuming alcohol.”
If someone simply stops driving during the length of their sentence mandating use of the ignition interlock system, Loftin said, they haven’t learned to control their alcohol consumption and are much more likely to keep drinking and wind up driving after their suspensions are lifted.
“People don’t make good decisions sitting on a barstool,” said Senate File 77’s sponsor, Sen. Drew Perkins (R-Casper), adding that since the legal clock doesn’t start ticking until the system is actually in use, an offender who doesn’t have one installed will have his or her license suspended indefinitely, not just the length of the original court order. The safety equipment costs between $60 and $80 per month to use, Loftin said.
The sentence for someone convicted under SF 77 is the same as for driving with a suspended license: up to seven days in jail and up to a $750 fine.
Perkins, who also carried the original bill to begin using the system in Wyoming, said the goal is to help people learn to drink responsibly, not to simply send them to jail.
“When they get out the only thing you’ve done is make them really thirsty,” Perkins said.
Rep. Charles Pelkey (D-Laramie) said he supports the concept behind the changes that would go into effect if SF 77 wins approval, but he couldn’t vote for it in committee because it contained language he said is too vague.
The committee deadlocked at 4-4, leaving Chairman Rep. David Miller (R-Riverton) to break the tie. He explained he voted in favor of the bill so it could be debated on the House floor. He made it clear after the meeting, though, that he’s not sure the proposal will get his final vote on third reading.
SF 106, sponsored by Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper), would make the sale or use of powdered alcohol illegal. He noted while the federal government initially approved it last April, the order was rescinded about two weeks later. The matter is now being left up to the individual states.
Landen said 24 states are now considering a ban on powdered alcohol, including all of Wyoming’s neighboring states except Montana. He said one of the things that makes it dangerous is that it can be taken in so many different ways, including mixing it with beverages, adding it to food, snorting it or taking it in pill form.
Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association (WSLA), said even though his group’s members could make money selling the product, they won’t do it because it’s a bad idea with a lot of risks, especially for young people who can’t purchase traditional alcohol legally.
Moser said if someone decides to put the powder in food, other people who have no idea they’re eating it can get extremely drunk and sick. He said the powdered form is being marketed on the internet with the suggestion that it’s easy to carry into concerts, sports events and movie theaters.
Powdered alcohol has been around since the 1800s but is once again becoming popular, especially in Europe. Moser said it looks pretty innocent, “like pixie stick powder.”
Miller asked Moser if he thinks mini-bottles of alcohol should be banned, too.
“No, because they are fun and legal,” the WSLA director said with a grin.
The committee voted 6-3 to approve the bill, which previously passed the Senate by a 23-7 vote.
SF 106 died in the house Wednesday on a 16-43 vote.