- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

On Monday, the New Mexico House of Representatives approved legislation to mandate ignition locks on all cars in the state. The devices — which motorists would have to blow into before starting their cars every time they get behind the wheel — are supposed to detect alcohol and prevent an engine from being started if any is present. A supportive Senate debated the legislation this week, and Gov. Bill Richardson has promised to sign it into law. This is an example of the nanny state at its worst.

At approximately $1,000 a piece, the so-called drunk-driving locks are an expensive penalty for the state to levy against the majority of New Mexicans who are not guilty of any crime. There will also be the predictable hassles and delays when the gadgets don’t work. For example, factors other than booze, such as mouthwash, could skew the breath tests. The electrical systems of some cars simply will not accept aftermarket retrofitted electronics.

There is some confusion over the drunkenness of the average New Mexican, and thus the alleged need to be able to lock every citizen out of his or her vehicle at all times. Last year, Val Kilmer — a movie star who lives on a ranch in the state and lobbies to have filming done there — created an uproar when he told Rolling Stone magazine, “Eighty percent of the people in my county are drunk.” Outraged State Sen. Phil Griego suggested that Mr. Kilmer should move somewhere else. The governor demanded an apology, and the actor capitulated with a full-page mea culpa in a Sante Fe newspaper. Now, to justify putting ignition locks on every car in the state, the governor and bill sponsors cite statistics that show New Mexico has some of the highest rates of drinking-and-driving and alcohol-related fatalities in America. Perhaps the outrage at Mr. Kilmer was misplaced.

In a big, free country, it is impossible to insulate everyone from harm everywhere, every moment. Some troublemakers will always take advantage of their freedom to do things that are wrong and that will hurt innocent people. The appropriate response is to punish the criminal and send a message to others that such acts are not tolerated. Punishing innocents and restricting everyone’s freedoms are unjust solutions to correct the mistakes of a few. Unfortunately, that is what New Mexico legislators are out to do.

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