Amie Peterson with LifeSafer blows into a vehicle ignition interlock device for preventing driving under the influence outside San Francisco Police headquarters on on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

New law expands use of ignition-locking devices for DUI offenders

First-time DUI offenders will have a choice in the new year: face one year of restricted driving privileges, or install a device that won’t let them drive drunk in their car for six months.

A 2016 state law, which takes effect Jan. 1, offers the new option to drivers who have not injured anyone. First-time drivers who have, and second-time offenders, will be required to use an Ignition Interlock Device for a full year. Judges have discretion to order their use for first-time offenders, too.

The law is modeled after a pilot program that ran from 2010 to 2016 in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare counties that mandated locking devices for all first-time offenders.

“Ignition interlocks are 67 percent more effective at preventing drunk driving offenses compared to license suspension alone,” said Natasha Thomas, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Northern California Region. “License suspension alone — without the use of an interlock — is a hope-for-the-best approach to stop drunk driving. Hope is not data driven, and it’s not a sound strategy.”

State Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo, who fought for years to pass the legislation, said Friday that 1,000 people die each year in California as a result of drunk driving, and 20,000 more are injured.

Drivers must pay for IIDs themselves from one of a handful of service provides. Prices vary from company to company, and monthly charges can range from $60 to $80, with some companies charging installation fees between $70 and $150. Subsidies are available for low-income offenders on a sliding scale.

Before starting a car with an IID, drivers must blow into the device to confirm their Blood Alcohol Concentration is less than the state-mandated limit, said Amie Peterson, a Sacramento-area manager for LifeSafer, an IID provider. The process takes about 30 seconds. The device requires another sample after another five to seven minutes, and again after 20 to 35 minutes.

The device won’t suddenly kill the engine if a sample fails while the car is running, but it does log the event.

California law requires drivers to visit the service provider every 60 days to download data from the devices and have them calibrated, but Peterson said most customers come in once a month. Data collected from the devices is transmitted to the state.

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