DUI law expected to increase use of ignition interlock devices
Expanding the use of ignition interlock devices in Pennsylvania to first-time DUI offenders next year could more than triple their usage, officials estimate.
The devices require the driver to blow into a Breathalyzer attached to the vehicle’s ignition system to prove sobriety and start the vehicle. Under a bill Gov. Tom Wolf signed last month, the devices will be an option for drivers convicted of their first DUI with a blood-alcohol content higher than 0.10 percent by late 2017.
Currently, PennDOT suspends those drivers’ licenses for a year after conviction, but the new law would let them get a provisional license after six months if they use the interlock device for one year.
Eileen Lee, director of ignition interlock quality assurance with the nonprofit PA DUI Association, estimated the change could make 8,000 to 12,000 additional drivers statewide eligible for the devices annually.
Nearly 5,500 interlock devices were installed in 2015, she said.
According to data from the association, which downloads and analyzes information from the devices under a contract with the state, drivers blew into the devices to start their vehicles 14.36 million times; of those, their BAC prevented the vehicle from starting about 53,000 times.
“Anytime the vehicle doesn’t allow someone (intoxicated) to place it in motion, that’s a potential life saved,” Lee said.
Lee does not anticipate the interlock expansion affecting Pennsylvania courts at all, since they still will be handling the DUI cases from arrest through conviction and turning them over to PennDOT to suspend the regular licenses. PennDOT would have to expand its capacity to give out the provisional licenses associated with the interlock devices, which Pennsylvania uses only for repeat offenders.
The fiscal note for the legislation said PennDOT would have to establish a new, limited driver’s license for a one-time cost of $50,000.
The department would have to add about six employees to manage and mail the paperwork and licenses, costing an estimated $357,000 a year in salaries and $15,000 a year in postage.
The drivers would be required to pay for the interlock system, which Lee said cost $800 to $1,300 to lease and install, and a $65 fee to PennDOT for the special license to go with the system. Officials in Harrisburg estimated the license fees would cover the cost of the expansion by bringing in an additional $2 million a year.
Pittsburgh-based defense attorney Christopher Urbano, whose practice includes DUI cases, said ignition interlocks could cost too much for some drivers to get back on the road.
“At the end of the day, I don’t know if it’s really going to help things. It may end up being an additional financial burden,” Urbano said. “There are a decent number of first-time offenders who won’t reoffend. … Just because you’re above a certain alcohol level doesn’t mean you’re going to be a repeat drinker and driver.”
There’s no estimate on how many more interlock installations will come through Allegheny County, which has its own garage and technician to install interlock systems, said Criminal Courts Administrator Thomas McCaffrey.
Given that the law takes effect 15 months after its passage at the end of May, analysts for the county were still estimating how many DUI cases would be eligible for ignition interlocks and whether the current installation program would need to be expanded.
“We could do more with the program without expanding currently, but it would depend on what the numbers would be,” McCaffrey said.
If it were expanded, the extra costs would be covered by what drivers pay for the system and installation, he said.
There are eight private vendors of ignition interlock systems approved by PennDOT for meeting the state’s specifications, Lee said. They keep a portion of what drivers pay, as do the garages around the state that are certified to install the systems.
“It’s going to definitely increase our business, though it’s hard to say how much,” said Nick Doinoff, vice president of Interlock of Pennsylvania, one of the state’s vendors.
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Reviewstaff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or [email protected].