Alcohol Interlocks for First Offenders: A Case Study
By Robyn Robertson, President and CEO,
Erin Holmes, Research Associate,
Ward Vanlaar, Vice President Research
Traffic Injury Research Foundation, Ottawa, Canada
Alcohol ignition interlocks are a proven tool to effectively monitor impaired driving offenders and reduce recidivism.
Today, nearly all U.S. jurisdictions have implemented an alcohol interlock law targeting repeat and even high-BAC—or blood alcohol concentration—offenders. More recently, at least 12 jurisdictions have moved to also include some or all first-time offenders in alcohol interlock laws. Several other states are also considering such legislation.
An alcohol ignition interlock is a breath-testing device that connects to the vehicle starter or other onboard computer system. The device prevents a vehicle from starting if the breath test reveals a breath alcohol concentration that exceeds a certain preset limit, usually .020 percent. This device requires the driver to pass repeated breath tests while driving to ensure he remains sober. These programmable devices also include a range of anti-circumvention features.
The Traffic Injury Research Foundation examined Illinois’ experience to compare it to the experiences of four other jurisdictions—Colorado, Nebraska, New York and Washington. The purpose of the case study was to learn how legislation is translated into practices, and to provide guidance to other jurisdictions using the knowledge that has been gained to inform decision-making.
The Illinois secretary of state, who was tasked with implementing the first-time offender alcohol interlock law, completed a range of tasks, including those associated with costs of implementation; translating the legislation in administrative rules; developing a database and training materials; and changing the existing driver record program to accommodate first offenders.
It took a team of 40 people organized into six committees to complete these tasks. A number of departments within the secretary of state’s office and several other agencies were involved in the implementation of the law.
The new law will cost Illinois an estimated $1.24 million. The secretary of state paid a significant portion of the costs, while the Office of Highway Safety and the Illinois Department of Transportation also contributed to the effort.
Illinois implemented the first-time offender alcohol interlock device law, with no major challenges. There were two key factors critical to the success: strong political and agency leadership to ensure adequate staff support and resources were available; and strong teamwork, coordination and communication across agencies and staff roles and responsibilities were clearly articulated.
Results from Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York and Washington revealed commonalities with Illinois’ approach as well as a few unique strategies. The level of resources required for implementation varied, particularly in relation to the extent to which states automated much of the process. Few states were able to absorb the costs of implementation into existing agency budgets and those unable to required additional funding up to $900,000 to cover a variety of tasks. Information technology changes and adding staff were the most expensive during the implementation process.
States that worked with program staff during the development of legislation encountered fewer operational and legal challenges during and after implementation.
Nearly all states struggled with the development of a funding mechanism and a strategy to identify indigent offenders, but program staff believed the two are essential. Finally, all states achieved some growth in program participation as a result of implementation.
Nevertheless, ongoing efforts are needed in this area to achieve the maximum potential. Based on the experiences of jurisdictions with the implementation of a first-time offender alcohol interlock law, several recommendations to assist other jurisdictions are formulated and discussed in the report, which is available at www.tirf.ca.