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Ignition interlocks in New York: the gap between theory and practice

In order for a law to be fair, it has to be enforced consistently. It doesn't take grand jurisprudential theory to recognize this; it comes down to a basic sense of justice and common sense.

Consider, for example, the ignition interlock requirement for people convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New York. Since 2010, a law has been in effect to require anyone with such a conviction to use an ignition interlock device for a minimum of six months upon regaining driving privileges - and for longer than that for aggravated or repeat DWI.

Recent research has found, however, that the compliance rate for the interlock requirement is remarkably low. Statewide in New York, only 26 percent of the drivers who are ordered by a court to use ignition interlocks actually do so.

In this post, we will discuss the administrative challenges that contribute to such a low compliance rate. Being informed about this will help you and your attorney protect your rights if you ever face DWI charges.

What are ignition interlocks exactly?

Ignition interlocks are devices that measure a vehicle operator's blood alcohol content (BAC) and prevent the vehicle from starting if BAC is unacceptable. Since Leandra's Law took effect in New York in 2010, these devices have been required by law and are court-ordered for all DWI offenders.

In fact, even if your driver's license is revoked, the law still requires a notation about an interlock device to be placed in your driving record. And if you get a DWI conviction, the interlock requirement applies to all of your vehicles, not only the one you were driving when you were stopped for suspected drunk driving.

But despite these broad legal requirements, the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services (i.e., the probation department) does not actually come and install the device for you if you get a DWI. Instead, the probation department serves as an information broker for various vendors who will sell you a device.

Does the probation department actually follow up on interlock installation?

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli recently issued a report on compliance with ignition interlock requirements. The report focused in particular on New York City, not Syracuse. But overall, the report found that only slightly more than 1 in 4 drivers statewide actually install and use the interlocks mandated by law.

There are several reasons for this low compliance rate. For one thing, someone who is subject to an interlock requirement might drive someone else's car, such as the car of a friend or family member. Moreover, the probation department seems to lack the resources to follow up effectively to make sure interlocks are installed and used.

There also seems to be a lack of communication between the probation department, the courts and the Department of Motor Vehicles about violations of interlock requirements.

The bottom line: know your rights

If you are facing DWI charges or have already had a conviction, it is important to be aware of what the ignition interlock actually involves. At our firm, you will work with an experienced DWI defense lawyer who will help you know and assert your rights.

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