ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - The state's Court of Appeals has ruled that convicted drugged drivers must install an ignition interlock into their cars, even though the devices don't detect traces of drugs.
A judge said the ruling sends a message that drugged driving won't be tolerated, but some said the ruling doesn't tackle the problem.
"It is still required by the statute that an ignition interlock be installed," said Linda Atkinson with the DWI Resource Center.
Drugged or drunk driving carries the same DWI charge in New Mexico. The state has required ignition interlocks for anyone convicted of DWI since 2005.
In 2009, Tara Valdez pleaded guilty of driving while the influence of prescription pain killers and sedatives but contested the interlock requirement. A district court judge said ignition interlocks for drugged drivers was unconstitutional.
The Appeals Court overturned the ruling.
"It still is a punishment that will hopefully keep them from switching from the drug to the alcohol too," said Atkinson. "There can be dual use so there can be alcohol on board and either prescription drugs or illegal drugs."
But State Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said the ruling still allows drug addicts to drive impaired.
"For an individual who is drug addicted only and for whatever reason doesn't drink, then the interlock is not going to be helpful in monitoring their behavior," said Rehm. "I see the technology coming that would test for those drugs as well but right now, it's not here."
An Albuquerque Police sergeant who specializes in drug recognition also said requiring the interlock won't keep drugged drivers from re-offending.
Atkinson said it is unclear how many people convicted of DWI are driving drugged instead of drunk. According to the Department of Transportation, there were 901 DWI convictions in 2010 and 1,048 in 2009 where alcohol was not detected in driver or no blood-alcohol level was recorded.
Ignition interlocks are required for one year for the first offense and for life if a driver has four or more DWI convictions.