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Interlock Ignition Devices – An Alternative Sentence for Drunk Drivers

Posted by Joseph Awad | Oct 28, 2010 | 0 Comments

Today, drunk driving can certainly be considered an ever increasing problem within American society. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2008 an estimated 11,773 people were killed in instances where someone involved was driving while intoxicated. In order to be deemed as driving while intoxicated, the driver's blood alcohol content, or BAC, must be at .08 or greater. Those people who were killed comprise 31.6 percent of the 37,261 traffic related fatalities in the 2008 year. Certainly there is no reason this number should be as high as it is.

In recent years, judges have begun to crack down and impose harsher punishments for repeat offenders, a move which may have helped strengthen the reputation of the American judicial system in the eyes of the American public. Punishments for drunk driving will vary from state to state, and sometimes, even from county to county. Generally speaking, for a first offense, penalties will include some sort of fine, a driver's license restriction, mandatory attendance at an alcohol/drug education program, and possible jail time or community service depending on the specific circumstances.

Second, or repeat offender's will most certainly receive a much more harsh level of punishments. Those who repeatedly drive drunk will almost definitely receive a sentence including some jail time. Their mandatory drug and alcohol education classes will also be imposed for a much longer period of time. Other probable imposed punishments will almost certainly include making the offender attend regular AA meetings on top of their drug and alcohol educational classes, as well as the required installation of an ignition interlock device, which is a device installed into a repeat drunk drivers vehicle in order to measure their BAC every time before they are allowed to start the vehicle. If they are over the legal limit, the ignition interlock device will process the information and prevent the vehicle from starting, therefore not allowing the driver to physically start the car.

These ignition interlock devices would, at face value, appear to be one of the more popular punishments which judges are utilizing today. The idea of someone who has been cited for drunk driving in the past having to take a mandatory breath test before they are allowed to start their car seems like a phenomenal concept on its own. Combine it with the fact that if alcohol is indeed detected, the vehicle will immediately lock-down it's ignition system, prohibiting intoxicated drivers from using the roadways, and you get an exceptionally intelligent approach. After all, preventing the repeated endangerment of those innocent civilians on the road can certainly be considered a good idea.

There are many features of this device which add to the resourcefulness of the product. For starters, they have what is known as a Rolling Retest Feature. As previously stated, upon entering the vehicle, the driver must pass a test similar to that of a Breathalyzer. If their BAC is above the allowed limit – usually .025 – the vehicle will not start. In some cases, drivers will attempt to have a sober friend blow into the device so as the vehicle will start even if the drivers themselves are under the influence. To help prevent this from happening, the Rolling Retest Feature has been implemented. This feature will periodically and randomly request a re-test while the vehicle is being driven to ensure the driver is not under the influence. Once a retest request is made, the driver generally has approximately 6 minutes to provide a legit sample, before an alarm of some sort (usually honking horn/flashing lights) is triggered which can only be deactivated by turning the vehicle off.

Another key feature associated with this device is that there is a log kept of each time the device is used. It records each time the device is used, and keeps track of BAC registration numbers. If there are program violations then the driver will be required to bring the vehicle in for what is commonly known as early recall. Early recall is an unscheduled visit which is a result of the any of the following scenarios:

1)One Rolling Retest Violation
2)One situation where tampering with the ignition interlock device is apparent
3)3 Readings over .025
4)Any other violation with regards to the specific restrictions placed on the specific case

If an early recall is issued, the driver has five days to return to the installation service center. If this time period is exceeded, the vehicle will proceed into an additional five day “grace-period”. If this period of time is not met, the vehicle will go into a permanent lock out, which would result in the vehicle being towed to the service center. It also entails the owner of the vehicle paying all fines associated with towing, and the service appointment. Generally, as long as there are no problems, the monitoring periods (the amount of times the vehicle must be brought to the service center) are usually 30, 60 or 90 days. While at the service center, technicians examine the device to ensure there is no evidence of tampering, recalibrate it to ensure the device is receiving and recording accurate readings, address any problems the driver may be experiencing with the device, and to check the logs which have been kept to check on all activity which has transpired during the time since the last visit or installation.

Today, virtually all 50 states have laws permitting judges to impose ignition-interlock devices as alternative sentences for drunk driving. A couple actually have mandatory policies in place (please refer to the below table)


If you get caught driving with a suspended license which was a result of a DUI charge, the court is legally obligated to impose an ignition interlock device for up to three years from the date of the convictions.

New Mexico

All first time drunk drivers are required by law to use the device for at least one year, with repeat offender's being made to use the device for extended periods of time.

North Carolina

A DWI conviction in which the driver's BAC is 0.15 or higher, or there has been a separate conviction within the previous 7 years, will be required to install an ignition interlock device.


As of 2006, any driver that had any subsequent DWI offenses and who are eligible for license reinstatement or hardship (working) license, are required to have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle.

While they are few in number, there are a few criticisms which have been voiced. One study concluded, “The results of the study show that interlock works for some offenders in some contexts, but not for all offenders in all situations. More specifically, ignition interlock devices work best when they are installed, although there is also some evidence that judicial orders to install an interlock are effective for repeat DUI offenders, even when not all offenders comply and install a device. California's administrative program, where repeat DUI offenders install an interlock device in order to obtain restricted driving privileges, is also associated with reductions in subsequent DUI incidents. One group for whom ignition interlock orders do not appear effective is first DUI offenders with high blood alcohol levels.” – California Department of Motor Vehicles – “An Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Ignition Interlock in California.” Other criticisms include one driver who filed a law suit claiming he passed out and crashed trying to fulfill a rolling retest request, and also referring to those individuals who will just use a different vehicle to get around the hassle of trying to meet the necessary standards every time they enter the vehicle. Regardless of these criticisms, the device is still widely used, and does indeed assist in helping to keep drunk drivers off the road, which in turn helps protect those drivers who travel our countries roads on a daily basis. So, if you're personally ever experiencing a situation where you may need a Michigan DUI Lawyer, contact Joseph Awad today for all your DUI/OWI needs.

About the Author

Joseph Awad

The Law Office of Joseph F. Awad is lead by Attorney and Counselor Awad himself. Attorney Jospeh F. Awad completed his undergraduate studies from Wayne State University, receiving a Philosophy Honors Bachelor's degree, cum laude. Upon completion, Joseph lived and worked in Washington D.C. and cle...


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