Stricter ignition interlock law takes effect in state

A rigorous new DUI law allows alleged offenders back on the road if an in-car Breathalizer is used.

Whether they submit a breath test or not, every allegedly drunken driver loses their license to suspension.

But if a person's driver's license is suspended due to drunken driving in a rural area such as Clallam County, how does he or she get to court-mandated alcohol treatment classes or to work?

According to the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission, most people drive illegally.

But the new ignition interlock law gives those accused of driving under the influence a chance to lawfully drive after their arrest. It also mandates those convicted of a DUI to have an interlock device installed in each vehicle they drive.

An ignition interlock device requires a driver to blow into a cell-phone-sized mechanism in order to start the vehicle.

If the driver has alcohol on his or her breath, the car won't start.

"Sponsors of the bill that changed interlock law wanted to see two things - to see increased use of interlocks and to avoid impacting people's lives by suspending their license," said Steve Lind with the safety commission.

"There was an older law, but convicted offenders were not always required to have an interlock, and those awaiting trial would still have their license suspended, often resulting in a lost job or family complications. That was not the intent of the law," Lind said.

Driving under the influence can spiral into a series of arrests, citations or probation violations for driving without a valid license, according to Lind.

The state Department of Licensing puts a 90-day suspension on the license of anyone arrested for a DUI, no matter what happens in the court process. The new law gives people a chance to continue driving during that time while making sure they do not drive while intoxicated.

The shift caused an increase in ignition interlock installations within the first two weeks of 2009 by those arrested during the holiday season.

"The installation increase is dramatic," said Mitch Hodges with a state-certified ignition interlock supplier that has a contracted installation location in Sequim, the Master Locksmith store.

"We are the only ignition interlock installer in Sequim," said Shauna Millar, Master Locksmith sales manager.

"It takes about an hour, and clients must watch an instructional video. Then they come back every month or two and get each breath test downloaded for DOL."

Millar said she's heard all sorts of stories from her clients, ranging from arrests to having difficulties getting their license back.

"What I hear most from clients is that they are confused about how long they are required to have the interlock and if their time using the interlock before conviction - which is voluntary to get your license back - can be applied to the required period of interlock driving after the conviction," she said.

Department of Licensing spokeswoman Selena Davis said the department recognizes the time people have an interlock prior to a conviction as part of complying with the judge's orders.

"Usually, you're looking at a 90-day suspension after your arrest, so that is three months off of what a judge assigns you after conviction, which varies based on your driving record," she said.

Those with deferred prosecution for an alcohol-related incident must have an interlock for two years. Those convicted of a DUI for the first time must have it for one year; a second DUI brings a five-year interlock obligation.

"You must have an interlock installed on every car you drive, not necessarily on every car you own," said Davis.

"It's when you drive a car without an interlock that you get in trouble again."

Those with an interlock license are not allowed to drive commercial vehicles, and the special license is not available to those charged with vehicular homicide or assault. Those who refused to submit to a breath test are able to obtain the license.

The new law raised the rates for interlock monitoring by $20 to subsidize devices and monitoring for those who cannot afford them.

For a complete list of ignition interlock exemptions, information and ways to qualify for a subsidized interlock license, visit

Reach Evan McLean at

How to apply for an ignition interlock driver's license, according to the Department of Licensing:

_ Install an ignition interlock device in every vehicle you drive.

_ Get proof of insurance, such as SR22

_ Complete an ignition interlock driver's license application

_ Submit application with processing fees of $100

Costs for an ignition interlock driver's license include:

_ $100 for application processing

_ Fees for necessary insurance

_ Cost of installation, monitoring and removal of interlock

_ $20 monthly fee to help those who cannot afford interlock

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