Among the most interesting DWI law related topics in recent months is the attention ignition interlock devices have gotten. One of the most discussed tools to help combat increasing DUI and DWI rates is the ignition interlock device (IID)—also called a breath alcohol ignition interlock device (BAIID). These devices are, essentially breathalyzers for one’s vehicle that works by requiring the driver to blow into the device’s mouthpiece before s/he can start the vehicle. If the breath-alcohol concentration is higher than the BAC (blood alcohol concentration) levels programmed into the device, the IID prevents the individual from starting the vehicle.
Also, even if the driver’s breath-alcohol concentration is below the threshold level and the car starts, the device will require—at random times—the driver to resubmit a breath sample. This is to prevent the driver from possibly having another person provide a valid breath sample for him/her. Some devices will warn the driver, log the problem, and then set off an alarm that requires the driver to pull over and turn off the vehicle. The devices themselves do not automatically disengage the ignition because to do so would present a dangerous situation.
Early engine interlocks were created in 1969 by Borg-Warner Corporation. In 1981, a New Jersey student entered his breath-based ignition interlock device in a statewide contest and, as a result, these devices increased in popularity during the 1980s.
Breath-based alcohol sensors work by ethanol fuel sensors that detect alcohol and generate a chemical reaction that measures and converts alcohol levels into a breath alcohol figure. Granted, while these devices are neither as reliable nor as accurate as infrared breathalyzers, their low cost makes them a feasible option for motor vehicles.
Every time the motorist provides a breath sample, the device records the measurement and authorities may review the log as necessary; usually every 30, 60, or 90 days when the device is recalibrated. Any violations may result in additional criminal charges and/or penalties.
Contemporary ignition interlock devices cost between $70 and $150 for installation, and then around $70 per month for monitoring and subsequent calibration.
Use in the U.S.
A number of jurisdictions now require such devices for individuals who are convicted of a DUI or DWI—particularly for repeat offenders. IIDs are oftentimes a condition of probation. There has been a push for installation of IIDs even for first-time offenders, or even as standard equipment in all vehicles.
In the state, fatal alcohol-related automobile accidents increased by 15 percent between 2014 and 2015, and this year, these figures are even higher.
Recently, a group of Minnesota legislators has entertained mandating IIDs for all DUI and DWI offenders. They assert that widespread use of the devices will significantly reduce the number of drunk drivers on the state’s roads. Currently, these devices are mandated for repeat offenders, and in other cases depending upon the court’s probation rules.
Spurred by Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD), Representatives Kim Norton and Tim Kelly and Senator Chris Eaton are trying to get IIDs mandated for all DUI and DWI offenders. They cite 25 other states that have required IIDs for all drunk drivers and that have seen significant reductions in DUI and DWI offenses. Specifically, many of these states have reported at least a 15 percent reduction in alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Further, MADD reports that in Minnesota, these devices have already stopped 1.77 million attempts for people to drive while under the influence.
Another reason underscoring this push for mandating interlock devices for all DUI and DWI offenders is that the current requirement of a suspended license is largely ineffective because as many as 75 percent of people who have had their licenses suspended or revoked continue to drive anyway. Proponents assert that the interlock devices will eliminate those with bad judgment from even getting behind the wheel of an operable vehicle in the first place.
Under this recent legislative proposal, first-time DUI and DWI offenders would be required to install IIDs in their vehicles for at least one year, with repeat offenders held to a longer time frame. The underlying rationale is that the devices would serve as a wake-up call for impaired drivers who think they are not too drunk to drive, but who are given a large dose of reality when the devices tell them otherwise.
Also of note, offenders are required to pay for their own interlock devices.