Drivers accused of DUI in California now have an option to avoid a suspension of their driving privilege…
As of January 1, 2019, drivers accused of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of alcohol or in combination with drugs, may be able to avoid the suspension of their driving privilege altogether.
Authored by California State Senator Jerry Hill (D-Calif), Senate Bill 1046 was signed into law by former Governor Jerry Brown before leaving office. Senator Hill explained, “Research has shown that, while installed on an offender’s vehicle, ignition interlocks reduce recidivism among both first-time and repeat DUI offenders. Ignition Interlocks permit offenders to retain legal driving status, thus enabling them to maintain employment and manage familial and court-ordered responsibilities that require driving. This is a particularly relevant benefit as many offenders without Interlocks drive illegally on a suspended/revoked license, often after drinking. The installation of an Interlock on the offender’s vehicle reduces the probability of this occurring, thereby improving public safety.”
Prior to January 1, 2019, all drivers accused of DUI faced a minimum “hard suspension” period of 30 days before they would be eligible for any form of restricted driver license. Studies have revealed that as many as 75% of offenders ignore license suspensions altogether and would drive with a total disregard for the law and public safety. Essentially, the law had no teeth because there was no way to keep that person from driving if they have no respect for the law.
SB 1046 was originally introduced as a Pilot Program in February 2016. The original program was extended to July 2018 but was then amended by the passage of this new law. The new program is due to sunset in 2026 unless terms are modified. The original program only affected drivers accused of DUI in four specific counties. With the implementation of this new program, all drivers in all 58 counties are subject to its provisions.
Why does an IID make sense?
An Ignition Interlock Device (IID) is an electronic device designed to detect the presence of alcohol on the breath of a person intending to operate a motor vehicle. When properly installed and maintained, the device will prevent a vehicle’s engine from starting if the driver has been drinking alcohol.
Currently 27 states have similar laws and the evidence is that the laws work. States which require all DUI offenders to utilize an IID have documented dramatic downturns in alcohol-related fatalities.
Each year in California more than 1,000 people die in drunk driving collisions. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has found that between December 2006 and December 2017, the use of IID devices stopped drunk drivers from starting their vehicles 220,792 times. Nationwide, IIDs prevented drunk driving attempts 2.7 million times, during the same period. The theory is that by forcing an offender to install an IID in their car will be much more effective in protecting the public than simply telling the offender they cannot drive.
The entire California State Senate, road safety advocates, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the California Medical Association, California State Wide Law Enforcement Association, the National Traffic Safety Board, the Safety Council and many other organizations have come out in support of this new law.
Opposition to the new law
Anytime new laws hit the books there is opposition. The primary opponents to SB 1046 focus their comments on the four-county pilot program that began in 2016. Opponents argue that the results reported by the four-county pilot program do not accurately predict the results of the full implementation of SB 1046. There is also an argument that the vast majority of repeat offenses occur more than six months after the first offense (which is the time a first offender would have an IID in his car).
There are those who oppose Ignition Interlock Devices because they are too severe a punishment for first offenders.
There are also those who oppose the law because they are involved in the alcohol industry. Sarah Longwell of the American Beverage Institute argues that the new law burdens an already stressed system and does not protect the public from multiple offenders. Longwell argued, “While IIDs are a useful tool, they should only be required for the hardcore population who are habitually driving at extreme intoxication levels.” With the average cost of an IID running from $60 to $80 per month, plus the cost of installation and maintenance, opponents argue IID devices are expensive to maintain and monitor.
How the law works
Under SB 1046, only those offenders with multiple alcohol related DUIs are mandated to install the IID. First offenders who cause injury to another party are also mandated to install the devices. Generally speaking, first offenders who do not refuse a chemical test and who do not cause an injury are not mandated to install the device; but the law has built in incentives that make the installation attractive to first offenders.
- First offense DUI with no Refusal and no Injury: This offender may opt to install the IID for a period of six months. In this case, the offender would retain full driving privileges and would be given credit for any period of suspension ordered by a judge.
The same offender may prefer to opt for a “restricted” driver license. In this case, the offender would be permitted limited driving for work and a DUI school. The restricted license would have requirements for eligibility and would remain in effect for one-year.
- First offense DUI with Injury: This offender would be required to install an IID for one-year. If later convicted in court, this person would be awarded credit for the time the IID was installed prior to conviction.
- Second offense DUI: This offender would be required to install an IID for one year. If later convicted in court, this person would be awarded credit for the time the IID was installed prior to conviction.
- Third offense DUI: This offender would be required to install an IID for two years. If later convicted in court, this person would be awarded credit for the time the IID was installed prior to conviction.
- Fourth offense and subsequent DUIs: This offender would be required to install an IID for three years. If later convicted in court, this person would be awarded credit for the time the IID was installed prior to conviction.
- Any DUI offense with Chemical Test Refusal: This offender is not eligible for an IID restriction.
- Any DUI offense with offender under the age of 21: This offender is not eligible for an IID restriction.
Obviously the efficacy of the new law remains to be seen, but supporters and opponents alike will be watching carefully to determine if SB 1046 does anything to increase public safety.