New York state is serious about cracking down on drunk driving, and the ignition interlock device (IID) is part of the enforcement plan. The IID is a type of breathalyzer device installed in a vehicle that stops a car from operating if the driver has consumed alcohol. Anyone convicted of a misdemeanor or felony driving while impaired (DWI) charge or an aggravated DWI is required to install one in every car they operate. Those driving in New York should understand the state's law about IIDs, including what they are, how they work and who must use one.
Ignition Interlock Devices
An ignition interlock device (IID) is a mechanism that attaches to the ignition system of a moving vehicle and locks it. The device also includes a type of breathalyzer test. The IID will allow the vehicle to start only if the driver breathes into it and their breath shows a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of less than 0.025 percent.
The IID breath test is similar to the test the police give to drivers who are stopped for driving while intoxicated. Essentially, the driver exhales into the machine, and the breathalyzer measures the alcohol in the breath. From this number, the breathalyzer determines the person's BAC. An IID breathalyzer will allow the vehicle to start if the BAC is lower than 0.025.
BAC Limit for IIDs in New York
The legal limit to operate a motor vehicle in New York is generally a BAC under 0.08 percent. Under New York Vehicle & Traffic Law Section 1192, it is illegal for a person to drive with a BAC of 0.08 percent. That is called a "per se" driving while intoxicated (DWI) offense, meaning that proof of the BAC level is, in and of itself, proof that the person's driving is impaired. No other proof of impairment is necessary.
However, the 0.08 percent BAC limit doesn't apply to the IID. The IID is not intended to keep a regular driver off the road if their BAC is higher than the legal limit. Rather, the only people who have IIDs in their cars are those who have been convicted of a DWI misdemeanor or felony. As part of the criminal penalty for such drivers, New York law requires that the court include in the sentence the installation of an IID that will be kept in place for at least 12 months. That was added to the New York statute by a law called Leandra's Law.
Impact of Leandra's Law
Leandra's Law was enacted in 2009 after the death of an 11-year-old girl named Leandra Rosado. She was killed while riding in a car driven by the intoxicated mother of one of her friends; six other children in the car were injured. In response to this tragedy, the New York legislature changed the Vehicle & Traffic Law to make it an automatic felony to drive while intoxicated with a passenger in the car 15 years old or younger.
In addition, Leandra's Law mandated that anyone convicted of any felony or misdemeanor drunk driving offense must be sentenced to a 6-month probationary period in which they are required to install and maintain an ignition interlock device in every vehicle they own or operate. Later amendments to the law increased the time period for the installation of an IID to 12 months. The requirement is noted on the person's driver's license so that any time they are stopped, police will be aware of the IID mandate.
If a person who is required to drive with an IID operates a car without an IID, they commit a new crime. It is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.
Installing an IID in a Vehicle
After a driver is sentenced on a DWI misdemeanor or felony in New York, they usually have a period of 10 days in which to install an IID in each vehicle they own or use. This 10-day period begins from the date of the driver's release after any prison sentence is served. A monitor from the district attorney’s office gives the driver a list of approved vendors, or they can review it online at the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services website. Once the IID is installed in a vehicle, the driver must provide the court with proof within three days of the installation.
The convicted DWI driver usually pays the fee to install the IID, which can run around $200 or more. There is also a monthly fee for every month the IID is in place, and there is a fee to remove the IID. These apply to every IID that is installed. For example, if the DWI driver owns three cars, they must install an IID in each car. There is a limited exception if the person drives a vehicle in the scope of their job, and their boss gives written approval to drive the vehicle for work.
What happens if the driver doesn't have the finances to pay for the device? They can file a request with the court to waive the fees and provide a financial disclosure form, which the court will review.
How IIDs Work
An ignition interlock device is quite a complex device, which does more than test the driver's breath. Once the driver exhales into the IID, the device determines whether the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.025 percent or higher. If so, the IID prevents the vehicle’s engine from starting. If not, the IID allows the car to start. But it doesn't just shut off at that point.
Once the driver starts the engine and is driving around, the IID will, from time to time, require that the driver take additional breath tests. This is to make sure that the person is not drinking while driving. And the IID can force the driver to give additional breath samples. If the IID demands a new sample and the driver doesn’t do it, the IID causes the vehicle to start honking or activates an alarm in the car. This noise continues until the driver exhales into the device or until the ignition is turned off.
The IID also records all driver interaction with the vehicle, including how many times the driver started or tried to start the car, the driver's BAC when they tried to start the car and how long the car was driven.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.