The Ignition Interlock: a Dash-Mounted Breathalyzer

California DUI penalties include fines, jail, license suspensions and installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) in the driver’s vehicle. In every California county, the device is prescribed for second and third offenders; in some, the offender must install it on the first offense. The IID is really a mobile breathalyzer, and a judge can order anyone convicted of DUI to have it installed.

How the IID works

The IID is a small device (somewhat bigger than a cellphone) hooked up to the vehicle’s electrical system. In order to start the car, the driver has to blow into it in a set patter of breath patterns. The device is set at a certain blood alcohol content (BAC) threshold. If the driver passes the test, the car starts. If the driver fails the test, the device is set to wait a certain amount of time to allow a retest.

The device is also set to require tests while the driver is on the road. If the driver fails the test while driving, the car won’t stop, but the computer device registers a violation, which will be detected during the end of the current calibration period.

Who pays for an IID and how much does it cost?

The person convicted of DUI must, at his or her own expense, have and approved IID installed by a DMV certified dealer. For a list of California DMV ignition interlock devices and dealers see California Department of Motor Vehicles web page. One dealer, DriveRight Ignition Interlock Systems, offers free installation and a monthly lease plan for $65. They also apply other one-time (rest, vehicle change, and road service fees). Others are more expensive and charge for the monthly calibration fees.

Reliability factors

IIDs must, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration keep a car from starting up 90 percent of the time if the driver’s BAC is .01 points above the limit that is set into the instrument.

Bypassing or cheating is possible but…

Cheating is highly penalized and if detected will result in stiff penalties for the cheater(s). Blowing into an IID is a procedure that must be practiced and learned, and it is not likely that some who is already drunk would be able to successfully tutor someone else to operate the IID. In any case, violators risk 6 months in jail and a fine of $5,000 for tampering with IID.

How courts view IIDs

To date, no state appellate court has truck down any IID statute. California is presently one of 20 states that have IIDs in their mandatory DUI sentencing. Also, no one has been successful in appealing any DUI sentence involving mandatory use of an IIDs.

Effectiveness in preventing drunk driving

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism notes that an IID is far more effective than taking away someone’s license. Repeat DUI offenders, according to Ignition Interlock, “make up about a third of drunk driving arrests every year. Even though their licenses may be revoked, it is estimated that about 50-75% of these people will still drive even without a license.”

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