California To Begin Ignition Interlock Experiment

Those convicted of drunk driving may face a variety of penalties, ranging from fines and fees to incarceration. For first-time offenders in particular California counties, though, new penalties are coming. Beginning July 1, 2010, all individuals convicted of drunk driving in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare counties will be required to install ignition interlock devices on any vehicles they own or operate.

Ignition interlock devices are in-car breathalyzers; when a vehicle is equipped with such a device, the driver is required to blow into the device before starting the vehicle. It will not start if the driver's blood alcohol concentration level is above a pre-set limit.

Although ignition interlock devices are not new, this is the first time these devices have been required for all offenders - including those with no prior convictions for DUI.

This change comes as part of a pilot program established by California Assembly Bill 91. Under AB 91, if the drunk driving incident does not result in any injuries, first-time offenders must use ignition interlock devices for five months. In cases involving injury, the device is required for a year. Time periods increase with subsequent offenses.

To ensure that interlock devices aren't prohibitively expensive, AB 91 requires manufacturers to adopt fee schedules based on ability to pay. Anyone whose income is less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level will only pay a fraction of the cost of installing and maintaining the device.

Are Ignition Interlock Devices Really Necessary for Everyone?

According to the Office of Traffic Safety, alcohol-related traffic deaths have been declining in California. In 2008, there were 1,029 alcohol-related traffic deaths, down for the third year in a row. However, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, California's drunk driving fatalities are still among the highest in the nation.

In 2005, New Mexico first demonstrated the efficacy of mandatory ignition interlock devices. According to the New York Times, the state experienced a 35 percent drop in drunk driving fatalities and a 65 percent drop in drunk driving recidivism after its mandatory ignition interlock law took effect.

Based on this information alone, it is easy to understand why ignition interlock devices garner public support. At the same time though, it is important to consider the full implications of installing these devices.

The pilot program reduces the costs of the devices, but they are still expensive. Moreover, the devices are intrusive and have the practical effect of public shaming. Every time someone has to drive - whether transporting clients for work purposes or simply leaving the grocery store - that person is required to blow into the interlock device.

Notably, this includes drivers who are not convicted of drunk driving. Oftentimes people share vehicles. These laws can place burdens on individuals who have done absolutely nothing wrong, but share a vehicle with someone convicted of drunk driving.

Fortunately, the California legislature has started with small steps in limiting the pilot program to four counties. The California Department of Motor Vehicles is expected to collect data on the pilot and report results of the experiment to the legislature by Jan. 1, 2015.

For people in these counties though, this means one more potential penalty to worry about when stopped for drunk driving. If you have been accused of driving under the influence, speak to a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to discuss your concerns and protect your legal rights.