In September 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law an eighteen-month extension of California’s four-county IID – ignition interlock device – pilot program. Anyone whose first DUI conviction is in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Alameda, or Tulare County must install an ignition interlock device (IID) in his or her personal vehicle. Installation runs about $100, and there’s a monthly maintenance and rental fee. What exactly is an IID, how does it work, and is it effective? These are among the most frequently asked questions about ignition interlock devices. Below are some answers about IIDs and the role they play in DUI enforcement in California:
Q: What is an ignition interlock device (IID)?
A: An ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer device designed to prevent anyone under the influence from driving a vehicle. It is slightly larger than a cigarette pack and must be wired to the vehicle’s ignition by an authorized installer. An IID requires a breath sample to be submitted before it will allow the driver to start the vehicle. If the breath alcohol content level is too high, the vehicle will not start.
Q: What happens when a California court orders a driver to install an IID?
A: When the court orders the use of an IID, it must be installed by an authorized installer, and the court must receive proof of installation. The court notifies the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which marks the driver’s record so that police officers are aware of the I.I.D. requirement if they make a stop. If a driver fails to comply with a court’s order to install an I.I.D., the court will notify the DMV and that person’s driving privilege may be suspended until there is proof of compliance.
Q: Do IIDs work effectively?
A: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has determined that IIDs are accurate and effective more than 90 percent of the time. All ignition interlock devices must meet NHTSA requirements as well as the requirements of the individual states. Cheating, when discovered, results in serious penalties in California.
Q: Are IIDs effective at preventing re-arrests and subsequent DUI offenses?
A: The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that IIDs keep DUI offenders off the road more effectively than license suspensions. The NIAAA estimates that more than half of the drivers in the U.S. whose licenses are suspended continue to drive. IIDs substantially lower this percentage. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2011, there was a 67 percent reduction of drunk driving repeat offenses when ignition interlock devices are installed.
However, the evidence is mixed. In 2015, California’s DMV published a study titled “General Deterrent Evaluation of the Ignition Interlock Pilot Program in California.” DMV researchers discovered that California’s “IID pilot program was not associated with a reduction in the number of first-time and repeat DUI convictions in the pilot counties. In other words, no evidence was found that the pilot program has a general deterrence effect.”
Q: Precisely what is California’s IID pilot program?
A: In 2010, California implemented the program in four counties to determine if mandatory IID use is an effective tool against intoxicated driving. In Sacramento, Los Angeles, Alameda, and Tulare counties, all convicted DUI offenders including first offenders must have IIDs installed in their vehicles. In other counties and other DUI cases in California, ordering the use of an I.I.D. is left to the judge’s discretion. Every state has some kind of ignition interlock device law, but most states only require IIDs for repeat DUI offenders.
Q: Are there any exemptions from mandatory IID use? What about hardship exemptions?
A: If you are the sole proprietor of a business with more than one vehicle registered in your name, the IID is installed only in your personal vehicle. If you drive an employer-owned vehicle as part of your employment, the employer is not required to place an IID in that vehicle. And if the court decides that the hardship of installing an IID outweighs the likelihood that a defendant will drink and drive on probation, an exemption may be granted. California judges may also grant exemptions to the IID requirement in these situations:
- if you live in another state and installing an IID would cause undue hardship on you or your family
- if you live fifty or more miles from an IID service facility and installing an IID would create an undue hardship on you or your family
- if you can prove the vehicle registered in your name is inoperable, and you cannot transfer the title
Q: What about the maintenance of IIDs? What is involved?
A: Once installed, an IID must be calibrated and inspected by a certified installer at least every 60 days. Drivers who do not comply with IID requirements may have their driving privilege suspended or revoked. If someone who has been ordered to use an IID attempts to remove, tamper with, or bypass the IID, or fails three or more times to comply with any requirement for the maintenance of the IID, the California DMV will suspend or revoke the person’s driving privilege for the remaining duration of the original suspension or revocation. California law imposes fines and/or jail time for anyone convicted of assisting in the circumvention of an IID.
Q: Can someone use a balloon, air pump, or some other air source to trick the IID?
A: No. The IIDs currently on the market have anti-circumvention detection, so the IID will reject bogus breath samples.
Q: Is there a way to avoid being ordered to install an IID?
A: Sure, and you’ve heard it before. The way to avoid being ordered to install an IID is this simple: Don’t drink and drive. If you plan to enjoy drinks with friends, make transportation arrangements in advance. Contact Uber or Lyft, call a taxi or a limo or arrange for a designated driver you trust. There’s plenty of public and private transportation-for-hire in Southern California, and most of it is available 24/7/365.
However, if you are charged with DUI in Southern California, you’ll need to speak with an experienced Orange County DUI attorney, because at that point, an IID will be the least of your concerns. A conviction for even a first DUI offense can land you in jail for up to six months in this state. If you cause serious injuries or a fatality, a felony DUI conviction could put you in prison for years. An Orange County DUI attorney can also provide more information and answer your other questions about DUI and IIDs in California.