New Hampshire House kills bill that would've protected intoxicated people from drunk driving charges

CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire House on Thursday rejected a measure to protect intoxicated people from drunken-driving charges while they are sobering up in their cars.

The bill passed the Senate last month, but House members voted it down, 209-122. It would have specified that sleeping or resting in a parked car would not be considered driving or attempting to drive under drunken-driving laws.

Supporters of the bill argued that the current law is overly broad and unfairly punishes people who are trying to do the right thing.

"Sleeping in your car to sober up after the bars close is not attempting to drive, it's attempting not to kill someone," said Rep. Brian Stone, R-Northwood.

Rep. Dan Hynes, R-Merrimack, a defense attorney, said he has represented clients who have been arrested for falling asleep while drunk in their cars. He said the current law encourages them to drive in order to avoid arrest, putting lives in danger.

"We want people to stay safe and safe for others by not driving," he said. "We want people to do the right thing, sleep it off and not put the public at risk."

Opponents argued the bill would have unintended consequences, in part because it also would exempt behavior outside of a car. They said that could allow someone who drives drunk and then crashes to avoid charges if he or she exits the vehicle.

Rep. Kate Murray, D-New Castle, said police should be trusted to decide whether to charge someone sleeping off "their drunken stupor in their presumably non-moving car."

"DWI is a serious issue that often results in unnecessary fatalities," she said. "We should allow such determinations to be made by law enforcement," she said.