Updated: Tuesday, 02 Feb 2010, 10:32 PM MST
Published : Tuesday, 02 Feb 2010, 10:32 PM MST
SANTA FE (KRQE) - The state's Ignition Interlock Indigent Fund has run out of money.
The New Mexico Department of Transportation has given notice that reimbursements for interlocks given to low-income drunken-driving offenders has been "suspended until further notice."
The fund was set up to provide the interlocks to low-income offenders so they could legally drive. But, due to a lack of strict criteria on the income qualifications, up to one-third of DWI offenders took advantage of the reimbursements.
"There were a lot of people who could afford to buy the interlock and they were leaving it to the state to do it," said Sen. Kent Cravens, R-Albuquerque. "That's the abuse of the system."
For now, all convicted DWI offenders who want to drive will be required to pay the fees that were previously covered by the indigent fund. Ignition interlock devices cost approximately $1,000 to install and maintain.
Advocates for tougher drunken-driving laws are calling for emergency funds to continue providing interlocks while tightening up the criteria for DWI offenders to access the state funds.
"I would hope the legislature would take this to a top priority and get it fixed," said Linda Atkinson of the DWI Resource Center.
Cravens fears without immediate funding and stronger rules to limit indigent funds, lives will be in danger on the roads at the hands of repeat drunk drivers.
"We know that if they don't get the interlock, they'll probably drive anyway which is putting the community at risk," Cravens said.
Not only has the indigent fund run out of money, the state still owes interlock distributors money on devices already installed.
There are about 9,000 interlock devices in use in New Mexico. About 3,600 of those drunk drivers claimed poverty to get their device for free.