How to Make a Good Law Useless: 6 New York Counties Demonstrate

make-ignition-interlock-law-uselessAlcoholics Anonymous likes to say about its program, “it works if you work it.” The same is true of ignition interlock laws. If you enforce them, and put a good support system in place, they’ll do their job and protect the public from drunk drivers.

An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. New York State’s ignition interlock law mandates the devices for all DWI offenses.

Recently the New York State Comptroller released an audit which was designed to find out if six counties were doing a good job monitoring their ignition interlock programs.

The results were disappointing.

Interlocks are meant to be monitored. Whenever a user tries to drive after drinking, not only will he or she be prevented from doing so, but the info will be recorded in the device. That data – passed and failed tests, attempts to disconnect or tamper with the device, and general driving data to ascertain that the device is functioning properly – is supposed to be passed to a monitoring authority so that infractions can be dealt with. After all, if you have been convicted of DWI in New York, and you then attempt to reoffend, you are committing a serious crime.

The Probation Department is responsible for monitoring the device, though they can name an alternative monitor such as a DWI treatment program, district attorney, or other person, agency or organization.

What should happen is the data is sent to courts and district attorneys, who see that the test was failed, and then take appropriate action. This might mean the court will issue a warrant for your arrest, or take other action.

Apparently it’s not happening that way in these New York counties:  Cortland, Erie, Montgomery, Otsego, Suffolk and Wayne. The report found that while the counties generally did a good job ensuring that the devices were installed (not the case in all states), they did a poor job reporting violations.

The report’s key recommendation, which we agree with:

Department officials should report all IID Program violations to the courts and district attorneys in a timely manner.

New York is known as a leader in anti-drunk driving legislation, and its ignition interlock law for first DWI offenders has placed it in the forefront of the road safety movement as well. But an ignition interlock law is only as effective as its enforcement and monitoring are. New York State needs to step up and make sure the data is getting where it needs to, so the courts can take action to protect its citizens.