Ten years ago, New Mexico's drunken-driving laws were among the most lenient in the nation. That is no longer the case. Urged on first by Gov. Bill Richardson and then Gov. Susana Martinez, the state Legislature has taken important steps in the last decade to crack down on offenders and beef up enforcement.

And we applaud those efforts. At the same time, however, we believe that a compromise reached this session between Martinez and Republican Sen. Ron Griggs of Alamogordo provides a necessary opportunity for redemption that had been absent before.

Senate bill 442, which was passed unanimously in the House and Senate and signed by the governor, gives a second chance to drivers convicted of the most serious offenses those that result in serious injury or death. But, it's far from a free pass.

Offenders would eventually be able to drive legally in the state again, but only after completing all of the punishment and rehabilitation handed down by the court, and only with the use of an ignition interlock device for the rest of their lives.

Martinez, a longtime prosecutor who has a well-earned reputation for being tough on DWI offenders, had vetoed two previous attempts at similar legislation. But this one was stringent enough to meet her standards.

Griggs said he was inspired to introduce the bill after hearing about the case of Diana Carrasco, who was 20 when she lost control of her vehicle in a rollover crash that resulted in the death of her best friend. In July 2009, she pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and aggravated drunken driving.

That meant she could never get a New Mexico driver's license again without this change in the law.

The ignition interlock was first introduced under Richardson as a way to crack down on first-time offenders, without preventing them from being able to work and to provide for their families. It requires the driver to blow into a tube that tests their breath for alcohol. If any is detected, the car is immobilized.

Drivers have to pass the test again every so often during the trip to ensure someone doesn't begin drinking after passing the first test. As Griggs noted, without a driver's license, not only is it difficult to hold down a job, but even making it to required visits to see a probation officer can be a problem, especially in smaller communities that don't have public transportation.

This bill is a reasonable compromise that maintains a tough deterrence, while eventually allowing offenders to resume a normal life.

Las Cruces Sun-News