Ignition interlock effective, but some still avoiding program

Published 10:35 am Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Though Minnesota law requires many DWI offenders to use ignition interlock in their cars, the reality is people still find ways to bypass the system.

“We stop repeat offenders all the time,” said Austin Police Capt. Dave McKichan. “It’s just they have elected to have a vehicle sometimes registered in someone else’s name, versus wanting to have the interlock in their vehicle.”

Or, he added, “They make the choice of just driving while revoked, versus driving legally and having the interlock in place.”

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The Minnesota law, which has been in effect for one year, requires a repeat DWI offender or first-time offender with blood-alcohol of .16 or more to use an ignition interlock, which comprises a hand-held breathalyzer that requires the driver to register .02 blood-alcohol or less. A camera also prevents the driver from cheating the system.

Because the program is only a year old, and some choose to avoid it altogether, McKichan said the number of people in Austin and surrounding area using ignition interlock is very few.

Matt Walk, mechanic at Complete Automotive Services in Austin, which installs the units, said CAS has installed about 25 units since the program started. However, that includes drivers from Mankato to Rochester.

Walk said the units cost $180 to install and cost drivers $100 per month, which McKichan said may be another reason why people avoid using them.

Other features of ignition interlock include rolling re-tests, which require drivers to provide breath samples three to five minutes after starting the vehicle, and randomly thereafter; video and test results available for the Department of Public Safety to monitor; specific hum or “suck back” patterns required when providing breath sample.

Users are required to have the interlock calibrated monthly by a service provider. Service providers run reports that indicate how many times a vehicle started, number of rolling re-tests and failed tests. Service providers then send reports to DPS for review and any potential consequences.

DPS urges safe driving on Fourth

U.S. DOT studies show that 70 percent of DWI offenders drive illegally after arrest. The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation reports interlock devices can reduce repeat DWI offenses on average of 64 percent.

Though ignition interlock may keep a few extra drunken drivers off the road, the DPS still reports Fourth of July as the deadliest driving day in Minnesota. Minnesota authorities have made 1,536 DWI arrests on Fourth of July during the last three years and recorded 14 alcohol-impaired related deaths.