The Los Angeles DUI Law Blog

NTSB Wants Ignition Interlocks for All DUIs; Cites Wrong-Way Study

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board issued an ignition interlock recommendation to the legislatures of 33 states that don't currently require the devices for all convicted offenders. The NTSB wants ignition interlock devices in all cases, including first time offenders and those with borderline blood alcohol content convictions, reports USA Today. Though their recommendation is non-binding, it could signal the future of DUI legislation.

Here in California, the legislature adopted an ignition interlock requirement for all offenders, except those who plea to wet reckless charges, in four counties as part of a pilot program. Those convicted of a DUI in the counties of Los Angeles, Alameda, Sacramento, and Tulare are required to install the device, which requires the driver to blow into the device in order to start the car. If alcohol is detected on the driver's breath, the car will not start.

One would presume that if the pilot program proves successful in reducing repeat offenses, it will expand throughout the state.

One also might wonder if the NTSB is missing the mark here, as their reason for recommending the devices was the results of a study done on wrong-way drivers, who were primarily intoxicated. Sixty percent of wrong-way drivers were under the influence. Fifteen percent were elderly.

Wrong way drivers ... repeat offenders ... reducing recidivism rates. Where's the link? Note that the study cited did not analyze repeat offenders. It merely correlated drunk driving with driving on the wrong side of the road. From this, the NTSB jumps to the conclusion that interlock devices are necessary for all offenders?

A better approach might have been for the NTSB should look at which DUI offenders are most likely to repeat their mistakes. A 1996 California study found that those with nearly no alcohol in their system and those significantly above the legal limit were most likely to recidivate.

Those with low blood alcohol content were not sober; they were convicted of a DUI after all. California's DUI charges do not distinguish between alcohol and drugs for purposes of charging someone with a DUI. Those convicted with no alcohol in their system were almost certainly drug users.

According to the study, those who are most likely to become repeat offenders were the presumed drug users, "high BAC" offenders, and those who had already been convicted of multiple DUIs. The latter two are already required to install ignition interlock devices, whereas the blood alcohol measuring devices would be useless for drug users. In short, our law already requires ignition interlock devices for those who are most likely to need them. 

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