The Use of Ignition Interlock Devices in Drunk-Driving Cases

The penalties for drinking and driving have become more severe, particularly for repeat offenders, who often face mandatory jail time. In many states, plea bargaining is restricted or banned in drunk-driving cases. Fines have increased and driver's license suspensions have lengthened. It is also harder to obtain a "hardship" license that allows a person only to drive to and from work. In this climate an experienced drunk-driving defense attorney is essential.

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The Use of Ignition Interlock Devices in Drunk Driving Cases

Most states have regulations that allow or mandate that judges order the installation of interlock devices as a penalty during sentencing in drunk driving cases. An ignition interlock is a device installed in a car that measures the blood alcohol content (BAC) of the driver, who must blow into the device before starting the car. If the driver's BAC is above a certain level, the car will not start. Because the laws regarding the use of ignition interlock devices in drunk driving cases vary from state to state, it is important to speak to an experienced local DUI/DWI defense attorney at John Segelbaum Attorney At Law in Edmonds, WA.

What is an ignition interlock device?

An ignition interlock device is a small device (about the size of a cell phone) similar to a Breathalyzer® that is installed in a car and measures the driver's BAC level. If a person blows into the device and it registers a BAC level that is above a certain preset amount, the car will not start. The driver must also periodically give breath samples during the drive; this prevents an intoxicated person from having a sober friend blow into the device in order to start the car. Ignition interlock devices use fuel-cell sensor technology to detect alcohol. Devices record data like BAC test results, engine stops and starts and any attempts to tamper with the machine.

Overview of ignition interlock laws

Most states have laws regarding the use of ignition lock devices as a penalty in DUI (driving under the influence), DWI (driving while intoxicated) or other drunk driving cases. Of the states that have such laws, the majority of them give judges discretion to order the installation of interlock devices as a penalty for even the first conviction. This means that the judge is not always required to order that one be installed if a person is convicted of drunk driving, but may do so. Generally, the state will have laws that set forth how long the device must be used if the judge does order one be installed.

A few states have made installation of an ignition interlock device mandatory after any drunk driving conviction. Others only require them upon conviction for certain types of drunk driving-related offenses or under certain circumstances, such as:

  • Repeat convictions (second or third offenses)
  • High BAC levels
  • BAC of over 0.15
  • DUI with a minor (under 16 years old) in the car
  • After reinstatement of a driver's license

Potential problems with ignition interlock devices

The use of ignition interlock devices should curtail drunk driving and prevent individuals from driving when they are intoxicated. In addition, using them can help people who have been convicted of drunk driving show the court and prosecutors that they have stayed sober. However, there may be some potential problems with the use of such devices:

  • False positives: The devices may detect alcohol if a driver has recently used mouthwash that contains alcohol or if a person has eaten certain baked goods containing sugar and yeast, which have been known to cause low alcohol levels. Certain medical conditions can also trigger false positives.
  • Malfunctions: The devices use complex fuel-cell technology, and there is a possibility that the device could malfunction, resulting in incorrect readings or an inability to start the vehicle even if no alcohol is detected.
  • Shared vehicles: If the person who is required to use the ignition interlock device shares a car with a spouse or another person, that other person will need to use it as well.

In addition, the offender is typically required to pay for the device. The cost usually includes an installation fee and a monthly rental fee. The offender may have to use the device for three months, six months or longer depending on the state, the applicable law and the terms of the offender's sentence. This can mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs.

Speak to a drunk driving defense lawyer

More states now have laws covering the use of ignition interlock devices in drunk driving cases. However, the laws vary greatly in terms of the circumstances in which these devices are used, how long they must be used and the people who are required to use them. If you have questions about the use of ignition interlock devices, contact an experienced DUI/DWI attorney at John Segelbaum Attorney At Law in Edmonds, WA.

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DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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