According to one woman who wishes to remain anonymous (let’s call her Jane Doe), her struggle with drinking led to four DWIs and a driver’s license suspension. She had resigned herself to the fact that she would never be able to legally drive again until she heard of—and enrolled in—the Minnesota Ignition Interlock Program.
The program relies on the use of ignition interlock devices (IIDs) which are installed in an offender’s vehicle near the steering wheel. Before starting the vehicle, the driver must blow into the device. If his/her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) registers above .08—the legal limit—then the vehicle won’t start.
Doe installed the device in her vehicle for four years. Not only did she maintain her driving privileges—legally—but she stated she was also less of a burden to her friends and family and was still able to work and attend treatment without having to rely on others for rides or spend unnecessary money on cabs or other rideshare services.
Minnesota’s IID program
Effective 1 July 2011, first-time DWI offenders with a Third Degree DWI BAC of .16 and above—as well as all second-time DWI offenders—were given the option of earning back their driving privileges by enrolling in the state’s IID program. The program also addresses drivers whose licenses were canceled and/or suspended as “inimical to public safety.” These offenders are required to enroll in the program for three to six years to regain their driving privileges.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services Division (DVS) that administers the program, the program’s mission is to enhance public safety with respect to DWI offenders. Installing an IID in one’s vehicle helps ensure that the motorist does not drive while drunk or under the influence of drugs. By blowing into an affixed tube that registers one’s BAC, if the system determines the individual is intoxicated then the vehicle cannot be started. Additionally, the driver must continue to blow into the device every ten minutes or so to ensure that s/he continue to operate the motor vehicle while sober.
Not everyone qualifies for program participation, and some people would rather not drive for one year than participate. Another issue is cost. Program participants are required to pay for installation and removal of the IID, plus a rental fee of $90 and a $20 fee every two months for the device’s recalibration. Ultimately, the individual must determine whether the cost is worth retaining his/her driving privileges. For Doe, it was.
In Minnesota, the Intoxalock is the premier IID used. In 2016 alone, over 200 IIDs were installed in offender vehicles. While business is booming, this isn’t necessarily an increasing trend that society wishes to see.
There are two main types of Intoxalock customers: those who are bitter and those who are contrite. Those in the first group are angry that they got caught or are being required to participate in the program. These are often repeat offenders. However, those in the second group are apologetic, seek to change their drinking and driving habits, and rarely make the same mistake again.
Doe’s own voluntary participation in Minnesota’s program has enabled her to remain sober since 2013. She has also saved considerable money by participating. Doe confessed that her last DWI cost her over $40,000 in legal fees and administrative costs and that’s not pocket change for most people.
According to the DPS, in 2016 alone, the IID program prevented over 12,000 people from driving drunk.
Despite these advances, however, the literature demonstrates that the United States is facing a public health crisis regarding alcohol consumption and drunk driving. Between 2000 and 2010 alone, alcoholism rates increased by a whopping 49 percent. Even though considerable educational efforts and treatment options are available, this continues to raise significant concerns.