Ignition Interlocks Might Be Mandatory For All Convicted DUI Offenders

The Virginia General Assembly has moved closer to strengthening the state’s already tough DUI punishments by requiring ignition interlock for all first time offenders. As a Virginia DUI attorney, I have reservations about this proposed amendment. My reservation is not that I believe the punishment is too harsh or draconian. Rather, I believe that this new requirement creates a logistical and bureaucratic nightmare.

First, Virginia must find a reliable source for purchasing an inordinate number of additional ignition interlock devices. While new suppliers are quickly becoming available online, there must be enough devices distributed to the various jurisdictions to meet the demand that the new law will create. This will be a financial boom for the company or companies that gain this contract. Most laws passed in this session of the General Assembly will take effect on July 1, 2012. It is difficult to imagine that orders could be placed, quality assurance tests could be performed, and devices could be distributed prior to that date.

Second, a mandatory ignition interlock program requires oversight. Currently, the local Alcohol Safety Action Program (ASAP) offices are involved in the installation, maintenance and monitoring of these devices, as well as other requirements for DUI offenders, including education, testing, and treatment monitoring. Thus, to place every DUI offender within the realm of the ASAP office for significantly more attention than the statutory ten (10) week education class creates a lot of additional work for ASAP. New employees will have to be hired and trained, facilities may have to be expanded, and all of that takes time and money. Fees generated by the rental of the ignition interlock devices by offenders will likely offset many of these costs, but office space and training are upfront costs that will be passed on to the taxpayer initially.

Third, the ignition interlock device itself is a very sensitive piece of machinery. It detects alcohol from your breath and gives a reading, which is then reported both to the ignition system (allowing or preventing start-up) and to the monitoring center at ASAP. Most manufacturers recommended that the devices be returned for calibration at least every sixty (60) days. Calibration requires technicians, both those trained on the devices and those trained on the computer reporting systems. The current number of technicians must greatly increase in a short time to cover this gap. Failure to calibrate can lead to false positive tests or violations for letting the machine lapse. This creates another mandatory trip for the offender to his local ASAP office, and another opportunity for a violation.

Fourth, ignition interlock devices are not perfect. The current proposed law is less stringent than the aggravated DUI requirement of all vehicles registered to the offender or driven by the offender. Ignition interlock devices cannot tell the difference between consumed alcohol and internally created alcohol, as may be the by-product of body processes commonly found in diabetics, dieters, or those on certain prescription medications. Alerts by the system typically are reported immediately to law enforcement, who respond to the location of the alleged violation. Thus, in attempting to thwart drunk driving offenses, the punishment phase could put an additional strain on law enforcement’s limited resources. Finally, in this area of increased fiscal scrutiny, I do not believe that this is the proper balance of limited resources and concern for the public safety. While numerous probation officers, ASAP personnel, and even repeat offenders have told me over the years that a more strict first offense punishment would have been a greater deterrent, I have serious doubts about whether the current incarnation of this proposed law accomplishes that goal.