If you’ve been charged with drunk driving, there’s a new sheriff in town.
And it’s electronic — a mandatory ignition interlock device on your vehicle that checks your sobriety every time you start the car.
Under the law passed by the 2017 Legislature, a vehicle interlock is now mandatory in all DUI cases. In the past, it was up to the judge and, in many cases, the interlock wasn’t ordered.
The new law took effect Oct. 1.
According to Amy Davey, head of the Office of Traffic Safety, and Victoria Hauan, Impaired Driving Program manager, almost a third of the more than 300 people who die in Nevada traffic wrecks each year are impaired.
“That number is pretty static so it’s time to try something different,” said Davey.
They say the mandatory interlock was proposed because it has proven to dramatically decrease DUI cases in other states. In Arizona and West Virginia, Hauan said, the decrease was 50 percent and New Mexico, 38 percent.
She said if a person’s breath measures more than 0.02 percent alcohol, the car won’t start.
Hauan said the devices have a deterrent effect that lasts for about three years after the lock is removed from the vehicle.
Removing discretion from the judge and prosecutor is key to the new law because, she, said many DUI cases get pled down to a lesser charge. She said in 2016, only 45 percent of arrests resulted in a conviction because prosecutors are overloaded with cases. Some are close to the 0.08 percent blood alcohol limit, some cases suffer from other legal issues and many get reduced to reckless driving, which doesn’t carry the same penalties.
“That’s a lot of catch-and-release offenses,” she said.
No more. Now the law requires an interlock.
If the alcohol level is less than 0.18, the court may order at least six months with an interlock. If it was 0.18 (more than double the legal limit) or more, up to 36 months with the interlock
But Davey said there’s a benefit for people charged who have to drive to get to work. Under the old, long-standing law, anyone charged with DUI automatically lost their license for 90 days, convicted or not. Under the new law, she said the defendant can get their license back immediately.
“Now they have the option to go down the very next day and get an ignition interlock on the vehicle, go to DMV and get a conditional license,” she said.
That permits them to drive to work, pick up the kids and do other necessary functions such as get to medical appointments while their case is resolved in the courts.
The long-standing objection to the interlock law was financial hardship for low income people. Davey and Hauan say it costs $60-$80 a month, about $2.50 a day. But the new law says anyone below the federal poverty level only pays half the standard fee and, if they’re at less than 150 percent of poverty, 75 percent of the standard fee.
There are also a couple of other exemptions. If the defendant must drive a company vehicle, that car or truck doesn’t have to have the interlock. But the company must be notified of the situation and the driver must have paperwork stating that.
Finally, there’s an exemption for people with a respiratory condition that prevents them from providing a deep lung air sample and for drivers with no interlock provider within 100 miles.
Hauan said if breath spray or mouthwash causes a false positive, all the driver has to do is rinse their mouth out and retest. She said there’s also no evidence to reports that bread, Kambucha tea or non-alcoholic beer will trigger the device.
Both officials say the latest generation of interlock devices is much more sophisticated than previous versions with numerous features designed to prevent drivers from circumventing them. In the past, some drivers were even able to get around the interlock by filling a balloon with air before drinking then using the balloon air to blow into the device.
That won’t work for a variety of reasons, they said — starting with the fact the machines take a photograph of the person blowing into the machine. That also prevents parents from having their kid start the car.
So even if someone gets the car started, the mandatory monthly inspection will include a review of the camera recordings and catch cheaters. Those violations or tampering with the device can get someone up to 6 months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
According to NDOT, 77 of 330 fatalities involved alcohol in 2016 and 50 of 305 in 2017.
Davey and Hauan said they’ll be monitoring statistics to see how much of a reduction results from the new law.