The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) recently undertook a study for a report to the California Legislature about the effectiveness of ignition interlock devices for people who had been convicted of DUI. The bottom-line conclusion of the DMV was that ignition interlock device requirements for first, second or third time DUI offenders did not reduce the risk of the person re-offending in the future. In other words, ignition interlock devices don’t make any difference. Click here to download and read the report. The report cites to a previous study from 2005 that had “mixed results” and found that ignition interlock devices actually INCREASED the chances of risks of drivers crashing. Presumably, this is because ignition interlock devices require not only that the driver blow into them to start the car, but also require “rolling tests” while driving. So, every 15 minutes or so you have to blow into the thing while the car is moving – which sounds dangerous. So, the “traffic safety” benefits of ignition interlock devices are “questionable” at best. In the California study, ignition interlock did nothing to reduce the number of DUI offenses or convictions.
Kansas is one of the few states that requires the installation of an ignition interlock device for a first time DUI conviction or suspension. A few years ago the Kansas Legislature passed laws requiring the ignition interlock device for 6 months for people who blow between .08 and .150, and at least one year for those that blow over .150, on their first offense. If a person refuses to take a test, the length of restriction to an ignition interlock device is for 2 years on a first offense. The years of required ignition interlock device go up from there for subsequent test failures and refusals. The ignition interlock lobby is very strong and is extremely active in getting laws passed that benefit the ignition interlock companies in states around the country. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has the requirement of ignition interlock devices for every DUI offender listed as one of their primary goals for each state. As I said, Kansas has already fallen in line with the ignition interlock requirement and not only restricts every DUI driver to a period of ignition interlock, but requires that the driver show proof that he or she actually had the device in his or her car for the required time period before the driver’s license can be reinstated. The legislature has made sure that the interlock companies get paid.
The California study showed that 74% of all DUI offenders were first-time offenders and that they had the lowest rate of recidivism. Ignition interlock devices did nothing to generally deter the public from drinking and driving and did not have any effect on that rate of recidivism for those once convicted. I would imagine that the numbers in Kansas would be the same. People who have never had a DUI in Kansas are not aware that ignition interlock will be required if they get one, and studies show that people don’t pay attention to that kind of information even if it were widely publicized. So, the overwhelming majority of people have no idea that ignition interlock may be required if they get a DUI, the devices do little to nothing to reduce the incidence of DUI and may actually make the roads less safe. The ignition interlock campaign does nothing to address the 74% first-time offenders. In fact, all of the harsher punishments, longer suspensions, requirement of ignition interlock, the criminalizing of refusals and other increasingly draconian measures implemented in the past decade or two have had zero effect on the incidence of DUI. To the extent that traffic fatalities have decreased, this is more an effect of airbags, better road design, and better car design. We cannot jail or ignition interlock our way out of the DUI issue. The government’s gameplan is to keep ratcheting up the consequences instead of focusing on actual prevention. We’ll see what California does with this study.