Ask a trooper: Interlock device is a tool to prevent drunken driving
Q: I have an acquaintance who is a WI resident who was stopped and received a DUI for refusing to take a breathalyzer test. They were sentenced with a requirement that an ignition interlock be placed on their vehicles in order to start them. They were also given certain times of the day they can operate their vehicle most likely for to get to their job. How does an ignition interlock work? How does law enforcement know that the person who received the ignition interlock is actually the operator? Isn’t someone other than the vehicle owner able to blow into the breathalyzer and start and use the vehicle? Would they be able to operate the vehicle at any time during the day or night? Is their home equipped with some sort of breathalyzer to test them randomly? This particular person seems to have found ways to work around the ignition interlock system so I was curious just how well the police can use it to enforce the DUI sentencing.
A: The question here specifies a Wisconsin resident. Because laws vary from state to state, I will have to limit my response to only that of Minnesota’s ignition interlock law, and residents. Minnesota’s ignition interlock program was permanently adopted on July 1st, 2011 after a pilot-program involving more than 2400 people was conducted. First-time offenders with an alcohol concentration of .16 or more, and all second time offenders, have the opportunity to regain their driving privileges by participating in the program. A person whose license is restricted to the use of the device may only operate vehicles that are properly equipped with a fully functioning system. The only exception to the interlock restriction is that a restricted person may drive an employer-owned vehicle not equipped with an interlock device while in the normal course and scope of employment duties, with the employer's written consent. Compliance with the program is monitored by Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services every 30 to 60 days, depending on the type of device that is installed. This is done in cooperation with local service providers who also check for any tampering with the device.
The interlock device works by requiring the vehicle operator to submit a breath sample into the device in order to start the vehicle. If a breath alcohol concentration of .02 or more is detected, the vehicle will not start. Once in transport, the driver will be required to re-submit samples at random intervals to ensure continued compliance. If a submitted sample registers .02 or more after the vehicle has been started, it will register a fail, but will not immediately disable the vehicle. Any violations detected by the system will require the participant to report to a service provider within 5 days, or lockout of the vehicle’s ignition system will occur.
The most common question regarding interlock devices is the possibility of someone other than the driver submitting breath samples in an attempt to circumvent the device. The ignition interlock system addresses this by employing a camera to record its users. This camera system records multiple images as samples are submitted to prevent unauthorized use. This, coupled with the requirement to continually provide samples during the vehicle’s operation, is the system’s first line of defense. The second is the law that prohibits anyone from tampering with, bypassing, or assisting in the same, of the ignition interlock device. To do so is a misdemeanor. The third deterrent to anyone considering assisting in tampering with the system is the possibility of being charged as “party to the crime” of any offense that may result from an impaired driver who bypasses the system and is subsequently arrested for a DWI, or related offense. This means, for example, that if someone assists a driver in bypassing the system, and that driver is later involved in fatal crash and is charged with criminal vehicular homicide, any person who assisted that driver in bypassing the interlock device could face the same penalties.
Drunken driving is a matter of choice, a poor choice. Therefore, any consequences stemming from it can be viewed as a foreseeable result of a reckless decision. Ignition Interlock has been shown to be an effective tool in reducing impaired driving - which accounts for one-third of Minnesota’s total traffic deaths annually. The serious scope problem of impaired driving is also underscored by the fact that one in seven Minnesota drivers has a DWI on their record. The ignition interlock system isn’t meant to be a substitute for a person’s own sense of responsibility. Its purpose is not only to prevent impaired operation, but is also to try and facilitate change in a person’s behavior so that they may learn to make responsible choices in the future.
For more information on interlock, visit minnesotaignitioninterlock.org.
Trooper Ben Marks is an 11-year veteran of the Minnesota State Patrol stationed in southern St. Louis County.