11 DUIs, Interlock – Washington Drunk Drivers Fall Through the Cracks

ignition interlock compliance keeps people out of cracksIt’s one of the most common drunk driving news stories: a driver is arrested on a multiple DUI – or causes a wreck – and it’s revealed that he or she should have been using an ignition interlock, but the device was never installed. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Recently in Renton, Washington a man was arrested for suspicion of DUI. He has 10 previous convictions for drunk driving, including two felony DUIs.

That record meant the driver, Dean Hermsen, should have had an ignition interlock in his vehicle. Washington state law is clear on mandatory interlock periods for DUI:

  • 1st offense: At least 1 year
  • 2nd offense: At least 5 years
  • 3rd or subsequent offenses: At least 10 years

Moreover, the interlock must stay on until the offender has passed 4 months without a failed test or other interlock violation.

So – if this offender was a a poster boy for the Washington State ignition interlock program, why did he not have the device in his vehicle? What good is an ignition interlock law without ignition interlock compliance?

The problem: enforcing ignition interlock compliance

Ignition interlocks work to reduce drunk driving and save lives – that much has been proved again and again.

The problem is that the only penalty for not installing an ignition interlock in Washington State is license suspension. And the reason ignition interlocks exist is that license suspensions don’t work. You can’t solve a problem by repeating its cause.

If offenders who don’t install the required interlock are stopped, they can be arrested. But until then, they ‘ll drive, and a still able to drive after drinking. The whole idea of an ignition interlock is to replace suspension and protect the public from drunk drivers.

The probation/supervision solution

Most offenders do install the interlock and they and society benefit. However, for stubborn DUI cases, a different strategy is needed for ignition interlock compliance: a probationary type setting. In some states there are sobriety courts and drug courts which assign special case workers – counselors or probation officers – to ensure that offenders comply with all requirements: treatment, counseling, and ignition interlocks. They review the interlock data to make sure that the offender is not attempting to drink and drive. And if there is a violation, there are swift consequences.

Sobriety courts and other kinds of probationary setups might not  be practical for every DUI, but they are wise in these extreme cases.

There’s an excellent chance that Hermsen will face prison. But others who are not installing their ignition interlocks should not have to get to their 11th DUI before the law takes notice. Washington needs to ensure that ignition interlock devices are being installed in the vehicles of those who are mandated to use them. That means a system that better supervises offenders, and in particular, repeat offenders who are likely to drink and drive again.