DWI offenders could be on the road sooner with new program

Published 8:32 am Thursday, August 11, 2011

Legislation passed during the 2011 session allows DWI offenders the chance to regain their licenses faster by having breathalyzers installed in their vehicles.

The breathalyzers are officially known as ignition interlock devices — a hand-held calculator sized device that prevents a vehicle from starting if it detects a certain alcohol concentration level after the driver blows into its tube.

Jack Wittkopp, addiction and recovery services program director at Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin, said the ignition interlock program is a positive thing for the community.

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“We’ve had people attending our (chemical dependency) groups that have had the ignition interlock system in place,” Wittkopp said. “It’s been very beneficial for them because they can go to work and come to treatment.

“They’ve all talked really positively about it.”

When someone is convicted of DWI, he or she can lose his or her license for anywhere from 90 days to seven years. Depending on the severity of the DWI, participants of the ignition interlock program can regain their license 15-30 days after their arrest.

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the device costs around $3 to $4 per day, not including an installation and removal fee.

Drivers whose licenses are canceled because the driver is considered harmful to public safety are required to get an ignition interlock device for three to six years. First-time DWI offenders with an alcohol concentration of more than 0.16 and all second-time offenders have the option of using the program, but they must keep the device on their vehicles for at least a year in most cases.

“This gets them transportation to (treatment), as well as to work or looking for opportunities to work, which is vitally important for them,” Wittkopp said.

Wittkopp said he thinks the program could reduce the number of people who drive without a valid license since the program helps people get their licenses back quicker. The program also keeps offenders accountable and allows those struggling with dependency issues to continue going to work so the DWI doesn’t result in a job loss, Wittkopp said.

“Now at least they know they don’t have to fool the law,” he said. “They can go through this program, and it’s for their benefit and for our benefit as citizens.”

“We’re all allied together to keep people accountable and reforming them into a better way of life,” he added.