By Rep. Mike Sylvia for The Liberty Block
In New Hampshire, the law regarding ‘operating under the influence’ (OUI) is liberally construed and enforcement sometimes approaches absurd levels. The law states that: “No person shall drive or attempt to drive a vehicle” while under the influence of a mind altering substance. At times, police have arrested people for ‘attempting’ to drive their vehicle simply for the crime of walking towards their car. Unfortunately, these law enforcement officers seemingly never considered the possibility that the person might be planning to sleep off their intoxication in their car. Of course, they could simply be planning to sit in their car and use their phones, listen to music, study, or wait for a friend or taxi. Existing in a vehicle while drunk should not be a crime.
This has the effect of putting a person into a dangerous catch 22. For instance, take a woman who leaves a bar knowing she’s had just a bit too much to drink. She intends to lock herself in her car’s passenger seat and rest safely until she is able to drive home. Currently, she can be arrested for OUI either while walking to her vehicle or while resting inside of it – even in the passenger seat!
The problem with the current law is that it assumes intent and places the burden of disproving guilt on the accused, which is backwards, immoral, and unconstitutional. SB 34 would correct this problem by allowing a person to sleep, rest, or shelter in place in a vehicle parked in any place where parking is permitted, provided that the person is not seated at the controls of the vehicle.
One can imagine many scenarios in which the protections of this change will benefit those who have had a bit too much to drink, as well as commuters in general. The bill was retained from last session and an amended version passed the House, so it is now headed back to the Senate. Let’s hope that they approve of this sensible win/win legislation.
SB34 has been signed into law by Governor Sununu.
UPDATE: Police officers like Sgt. Brandon Gagnon continue to find excuses to harass people who make the responsible choice to sleep in their cars to keep the roads safe.
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