Thanks to a state law that took effect in 2010, a growing number of motorists are now required to install ignition interlock devices (IID).
The purpose of an IID is to keep drunk drivers off the road.
If a vehicle is equipped with an IID, the driver must blow into the device in order to start the vehicle. If the driver has been drinking, the vehicle will not start and the device records the incident.
Breathalyzer tests are also required at random intervals while the vehicle is being operated. If the IID detects alcohol while the vehicle is moving, it will set off the horn and start flashing the lights until the driver pulls over and parks the car.
All but three states have adopted laws that either mandate or allow judges to order the installation of IIDs. Almost 150,000 vehicles nationwide have IIDs, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In Waupaca County, a single dealer has installed IIDs in at least 50 vehicles that are currently on the road.
“Prior to Act 100, the IID was a tool that the judge could order at his own discretion for a first-time offender,” said Waupaca County Clerk of Courts Terrie Tews-Liebe. “Now, the law imposes stricter sentencing guidelines. IIDs are mandatory for all first-time offenders with a 0.15 BAC or higher, for all repeat OWIs and for all drivers who refuse to take a blood-alcohol test.”
Tews-Liebe said the cost of installing an IID for one year can cost more than the average $800 in fines and court costs for a first-time offense.
Bill’s Auto in Waupaca is one of nearly 80 service centers in Wisconsin that installs IIDs. Bill, who asked that his last name not be used in the article, said installation of the device costs $80 and removal costs $40. Bill’s Auto also charges a recalibration fee of $16 every two months.
Bill’s Auto installs Intoxalock devices, made by Consumer Safety Technology Inc. (CST), based in Des Moines, Iowa.
According to Shelley Snyder, marketing coordinator for Intoxalock, the company has more than 30,000 IIDs installed nationwide.
She said her company charges $65 per month in the state of Wisconsin for the device for one year.
Janelle Wieters is a deputy clerk of courts in Waupaca County. She handles most of the traffic citations issued in Waupaca County and works with drivers who have been ordered to have IIDs installed on their vehicles.
“We have a lot more people coming in here, looking for information about ignition interlocks,” Wieters said. “Many of them don’t realize that if the court orders them to get an ignition interlock, that order affects any vehicle titled to their name. Even if the car has been junked or sold, the order applies. The Department of Motor Vehicles will send them a letter that they have a vehicle that needs an IID installed.”
Wieters said the court can order an exemption for a junked or sold vehicle, but she recommends that all residents ensure that they have taken care of the vehicle’s title at the time it is sold.
“They can get the exemption from the court, but that doesn’t change the fact that they still have that vehicle registered in their name,” Wieters said. “If the vehicle is involved in a hit-and-run accident, it could come back to haunt them again.”
People who own more than one vehicle must have IIDs installed on all the vehicles titled in their name. If they fail to do so, they will have to maintain an IID in their vehicles for an additional six months.
“Convicted OWI offenders may choose not to drive, but they can’t wait out the court order,” Tews-Liebe said. “Even if they don’t drive for two years, that doesn’t exempt them from having the IID installed.”
Their license will remain revoked until the IID is installed for the one to three years the court ordered it. Once the IID is installed, they can obtain an operational permit through the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The growing use of IIDs nationwide is in large part due to the apparent effectiveness of the devices.
Studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have found that IIDs reduce recidivism by as much as 50 percent to 85 percent.
A 2005 study in New Mexico showed a 3.5 percent rate of recidivism for first-time offenders with IIDs, compared to a 7 percent recidivism rate without IIDs. A 1997 West Virginia study showed that repeat offenders with IIDs had a 1.6 percent recidivism rate, compared to 6.4 percent without the devices.
Bill’s Auto began installing IIDs in 2006 and now has more than 50 active accounts.
“I’m installing four to five a month and that’s just the ones I can get in. I get calls on a lot more. Some people wait until the last minute to get the devices installed. They want the device that same day, but I’m generally booked up a week in advance.”
Snyder said one common misconception about IIDs is that they will stall a vehicle while it is operating.
“Our system cannot under any circumstances shut the vehicle off. It can stop someone from starting the vehicle and it can start honking the horn and flashing the lights once the car is moving, but it does not shut off the car,” Snyder said.
The state of Wisconsin has a preset limit of 0.02 BAC. If the driver blows into the device and has blood-alcohol level above the limit, the car will not start.
Snyder said each time the system is recalibrated, the handheld device that the driver blows into is sent to CST for analysis. Any attempts to drive the vehicle above the 0.02 BAC limit or any attempts to tamper with the device are reported to local law enforcement.