California Senate Bill 1046, which requires all convicted DUI offenders in this state to install in their vehicles ignition interlock devices that prevent them from driving while intoxicated, finally became the law with Governor Jerry Brown’s signature in September. The statute will expand the existing pilot program that requires the installation of the devices in the vehicles of all convicted DUI offenders in Los Angeles, Alameda, Sacramento, and Tulare counties.

The ignition interlock device or “IID,” which is essentially a breathalyzer connected to a vehicle’s ignition, will be required for all convicted DUI offenders in California starting on January 1, 2019. Convicted DUI offenders will have to pay a monthly rental fee for the device, about $60 to $80, along with an installation fee of roughly $100 to $150. However, the new law also includes a provision to help those convicted offenders who face financial hardship.

The proposal was sponsored by State Senator Jerry Hill of San Mateo, who said that twenty-eight states already require all DUI offenders to install IIDs. In a press release, Senator Hill also cited statistics showing that about one thousand fatalities in California each year are related to driving under the influence, and so are more than 20,000 injuries. Specifically, the provisions of the new statute include:

  • For a first DUI conviction involving an injury, an IID will be required for six months.
  • For a conviction for a first non-injury DUI offense, an offender may choose to install an IID for six months with full driving privileges; or the offender may choose a one-year restricted license that only allows driving to and from work, along with participation in a court-ordered treatment program.
  • For a second DUI conviction, IID installation will be required for one year.
  • For a third DUI conviction, IID installation will be required for two years.
  • For fourth and subsequent DUI convictions, IID installation will be required for three years.

Repeat offenders receive about one-third of the DUI convictions in California. In most cases, offenders’ licenses are suspended. Mothers Against Drunk Driving has data suggesting that more than half of those convicted of DUI in California continue to drive illegally on suspended licenses. In 2015, however, a California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) study found that IIDs are 74 percent more effective than license suspensions in preventing first offenders from becoming repeat DUI offenders. Nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, IIDs reduce repeat offenses by 67 percent compared to license suspensions alone.

WHAT EXACTLY IS AN IGNITION INTERLOCK DEVICE?

In 2010, California launched the four-county IID pilot program to determine the effectiveness of mandatory IID installation, and last year, Governor Brown signed legislation extending that pilot program through 2017. What exactly is an IID? An ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer, slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes, that must be wired to a vehicle’s ignition by an authorized installer.

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Once an IID is installed, a vehicle will not start until the driver blows into the device. If it determines that a driver’s blood alcohol content level is over the legal limit, the ignition interlock device will not let that driver start the vehicle. When a driver is under the limit and allowed to drive, the IID routinely requires additional, periodic breath samples to ensure that the driver is still sober.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, ignition interlock devices are effective and accurate more than 90 percent of the time. Cheating, when detected, is not tolerated. The courts in California want convicted DUI offenders to understand that IID installation is a privilege – after all, they’ve been convicted of driving under the influence, and they’re still being allowed to drive.

Even so, some will try to disconnect or otherwise find a way around using the IID. Anyone accused of cheating or tampering with an IID in southern California will need the counsel of an experienced Orange County DUI attorney. On top of the sentence for the original DUI conviction, a conviction for cheating or tampering with an ignition interlock device in this state is punishable by six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

SHOULD EVERY CAR HAVE AN IID?

Last year, federal legislation was introduced that would require automakers to factory-install an IID in every new vehicle to be sold in the United States. It’s a scenario where every driver – even those of us who don’t drink – would have to “blow” every time we got behind the wheel. New York Congresswoman Kathleen Rice introduced the legislation and cited University of Michigan researchers whose statistical projections suggest that installing IIDs in every vehicle in the country, after fifteen years, would reduce DUI-related traffic deaths by about 85 percent and reduce injuries by about the same percentage.

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It may not be this year or next, but at some point, “blowing” to start your car will probably be as routine as buckling your seat belt and adjusting your mirrors. For now, anyone charged with DUI in southern California will require the counsel of an experienced Orange County DUI attorney. If you are accused of DUI, don’t answer any questions without having an attorney present, and don’t try to act as your own DUI attorney, either. Too much is at stake, and even for a first-time DUI defendant, if you are convicted, you can’t expect leniency from the court. California is quite serious about DUI enforcement.

CAN TECHNOLOGY ERADICATE DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE?

Ignition interlock devices are part of the growing optimism that technology will soon be able to eliminate driving under the influence. Driverless cars – “Google” cars – are another such technology. Driverless cars in the future will purportedly – and safely – take us anywhere and everywhere. Nissan has even created a “smart” car with alcohol-detection sensors. In the near future, some of these technologies will be implemented and become standard.

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When that days arrives, DUI-related injuries and fatalities will substantially decline, and that’s good news for everyone. Will DUI be eliminated entirely? Probably not. Even today, some convicted DUI offenders ordered to install ignition interlock devices tamper with them and try to outsmart the system. In the end, driving under the influence may be impossible to eradicate completely, but we can all do our share – and stay out of legal trouble too – by adhering to the one basic rule that can’t be repeated too often: Don’t drink and drive.