New law requires ignition interlock device for first-time offenders
If the prospect of getting arrested, losing your license, having your name in the newspaper and going to court doesn't deter you from drinking and driving — how about the idea of having to blow into a device for the next six months to start your car?
Starting Wednesday, under Connecticut's new "all offender" law, even those who are arrested for the first time for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs will be subject to a 45-day suspension of their driver's license.
What is new under the law is that they will then be required to install the ignition interlock device on any car they own or drive, at their expense, for six months.
Drivers under 21 or those who refuse to take a breathalyzer will have to use the IID for a full year, and repeat offenders will be required to use the devices for two or three years.
"We're trying to change behaviors about the crime of drunk driving," said Jan Heggie Margolis, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
All 50 states have some type of ignition interlock law. Twenty-one states, including Connecticut, require the devices for all offenders, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Under a law enacted in 2012, about 1,000 repeat offenders are using the ignition interlock devices in Connecticut, according to Margolis.
The numbers are expected to increase dramatically after Wednesday, since Judicial Branch figures indicate between 10,000 and 15,000 people have been charged with driving under the influence in each of the past 15 years.
The Department of Motor Vehicles anticipated spending an additional $115,120 to fund two new positions associated with the program.
They also expect up to $650,000 in new revenue, because each driver has to pay a $100 fee to the DMV before installing an ignition interlock device. The funds will be used for administrative costs associated with the IID program, according to the DMV.
The new law reduces the length of time that licenses are suspended, but could be costly for offenders. In addition to the DMV fee, there are IID installation costs and monthly calibration fees.
"In theory, it allows people to go out to work and still protects society," said Norwich attorney Paul F. Chinigo. "But the financial hardship will be astronomical on people who are just getting by, with the lowest costs being a $75 installation fee and $75 a month for maintenance."
Some users have complained the devices are prone to false readings and malfunctions.
"I hope as more people use them it will straighten out the problems," Chinigo said.
Six vendors are authorized to provide the IIDs to Connecticut drivers. Local auto shops and other businesses install the devices and calibrate them every 30 days. Great Scot Car Stereo in Norwich installs the devices for Smart Start, a Grapevine, Texas-based vendor.
"We've been doing it for eight years," said Tom Adamik, owner of Great Scot, during a phone interview Tuesday. "We started off with very few clients and now have about 100 in the Norwich store."
Adamik said he gets a lot of phone calls from people who inquire about the cost but never follow up with the installation, meaning they won't be getting their licenses back.
"For as many people that get arrested and have the option to go on the program, I bet only three-fourths of them do it," he said. "I get calls about the pricing of it. I think a lot of people can't afford to be on it, to tell you the truth."
Under the law, those who attempt to drive with alcohol on their breath or commit other violations while using the devices get another month added to the punishment.
Margolis said the latest statistics show that alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Connecticut have been reduced by nearly 10 percent since the state began using IIDs, even though the national average has risen 5 percent.