Drunk Drivers Go Free in El Paso Texas: Where’s the Ignition Interlock Compliance?

A law only helps society when it’s enforced. And recently a TV station in El Paso, Texas discovered a lack of enforcement which places a dire burden on public safety: the city is putting drunk drivers back on the road.

KFOX14 in El Paso investigated the results of a 2011 law requiring repeat drunken drivers to install ignition interlocks. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Many states require ignition interlocks but don't enforce the requirement. Examining arrest records, KFOX14 found almost 200 offenders who should have been using ignition interlocks on their vehicles, but who were driving without one.

The problem is not the police, who are arresting drunk drivers. The glitch happens in the time after the arrest, but before the court case. That’s when the offenders can leave jail once they have posted bail, usually with no conditions – including an interlock condition – attached.

So the DUI offenders are falling into a gap in which they are unsupervised. They can end up driving for months without an interlock, depending on how the court case is delayed.

interlock-testAnd of course, even after appearing in court, some offenders whose licenses are revoked will continue to drive. Statistics show that more than half of drivers who are suspended for offenses ignore the restriction and drive anyway.

The upshot: compliance is often the weak link in an otherwise good ignition interlock law. Here are some ways that states can help ensure ignition interlock compliance:

  • Make an interlock order a condition for getting out on bond after arrest
  • Monitor defendants on bond, to ensure that the interlock is installed
  • Impound the vehicle of a drunk driver and do not return it until an interlock is installed
  • Make the ignition interlock part of a supervised DWI court program that blends supervision with treatment and mandatory interlock use
  • Ensure that hardship programs are in place for those who cannot afford the interlocks

There is plenty of evidence that ignition interlocks work to reduce alcohol-related road deaths. What we need now is evidence that municipalities such as El Paso are doing a better job enforcing the laws that help protect society against drunk drivers.