Ignition Interlock License

Upon an alcohol related DUI conviction, and after you have served the license suspension imposed because of the conviction, you must apply for an “ignition interlock license” that allows you to drive only a vehicle with an ignition interlock installed. The ignition interlock is a breath testing device that is attached to the ignition wiring in your car by a Washington State Patrol certified installer. It prevents your car from starting if you have alcohol on your breath above .025, although a judge can order a lower setting. When an interlock is imposed, your license to drive is valid ONLY if you are driving a car with an interlock device installed in it. Put another way, your license is suspended except when driving a vehicle equipped with an interlock device. Any car you drive must have an interlock installed. However, there is an exception for vehicles owned by a person’s employer and driven as a requirement of employment during working hours. To qualify for this exception you must file with the DOL a declaration from your employer.

A practical problem exists for professionals who travel and who must rent cars in the course of employment. These vehicles would not qualify for the “employer exception” to the ignition interlock requirement because the vehicles are owned by a rental company, not an employer. Other occupations may feel an impact from this law as well. For instance, if a real estate agent is not driving a vehicle owned by the employer, the agent would be required to drive an ignition interlock equipped vehicle while showing new homes to their clients.

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Getting the Ignition Interlock

The interlock may be required for up to ten years, in extreme cases, under the law, but a citizen who has a first offense DUI will be required to have it for one year. The law sets forth the following schedule regarding length of interlock:
a. For a person who has not previously been restricted under this section, a period of one year;
b. For a person who has previously been restricted under (a) of this subsection, a period of five years;
c. For a person who has previously been restricted under (b) of this subsection, a period of ten years.

The only other exception to ignition interlock requirement is when there are no interlock devices available in the geographic area where the driver lives, thus rendering it impossible to have an interlock installed. A driver who is convicted of a DUI almost anywhere in Western Washington will not qualify under this exception. The term “geographic area” is not defined in the legislation and it is not known how far the Department of Licensing will require individuals to travel to have the interlock installed and maintained.

The Washington State Patrol approves interlock providers and issues regulations governing the devices. A legal contract for installation and maintenance of the interlock is signed between the driver and the interlock provider.

Ignition Interlock Facts

  • There is no requirement that an ignition interlock device be specific for ethyl alcohol, which is the kind that is contained in alcoholic beverages. Some interlock devices test for hydrocarbons and could give a false positive reading for alcohol due to automobile exhaust fumes, in sufficient concentration.
  • You must present your car for inspection at least every sixty days, or more frequently if the court requires, so that the interlock can be inspected for tampering and the memory can be downloaded and reported to the court. A record is kept of the vehicle’s odometer reading at each such inspection.
  • The device will record evidence of tampering. A sticker on it warns that “tampering with it may subject you to criminal prosecution.”
  • The interlock will record each time the car is started, the results of each test, and how long the vehicle was operated. All readings are reported to the court.
    A reading over the set limit prevents the car from starting, but it will permit a “free restart” within two minutes of a stall or when the ignition has been turned off.
  • The driver is required to submit to a “retest” within ten minutes of starting the car. Thereafter, retests are automatically required at intervals no longer than sixty minutes, and the court can require retests every ten minutes if it so chooses. If a retest shows alcohol in excess of the set limit, the interlock will honk the vehicle’s horn and flash the lights as a means of notifying the police that the driver is in violation of the interlock. The only way to stop this racket is to turn the car off or submit a breath sample which is under the set limit. The “road rage” implications of this occurring in rush hour traffic were not addressed in the interlock legislation.
  • A “violation reset” condition occurs when a driver fails to perform a retest or is unable to pass the retest. The vehicle must then be returned to the interlock service center within five days, or the interlock will render the vehicle inoperable.
    The interlock manufacturer must carry products liability coverage with minimum liability limits of one million dollars per occurrence, and three million dollars aggregate.
    The ignition interlock was initially used in Washington State only in cases involving high (over .15%) breath test cases, cases where there were prior convictions, and in cases involving alcoholics. The past several years have seen a radical change in this philosophy and currently, there is no distinction between the alcoholic and the person who made a one-time mistake so far as the ignition interlock is concerned: if there is an alcohol related DUI conviction, every citizen must get an interlock license in order to drive.

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