Car Ignition Interlock Device (IID) in Iowa: What You Need to Know

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In Iowa as in other states, the ignition interlock device (IID) is closely tied to the state's laws surrounding driving under the influence (DUI), or as Iowa calls it, operating while intoxicated (OWI). Especially since updated state legislation was passed in the summer of 2018, IIDs have become a particularly prominent part of the various repercussions faced by OWI offenders, not to mention a key component in increasing safety for both the driver and those around them.

An ignition interlock device is essentially a car breathalyzer that is attached to the steering column of a motor vehicle. It restricts the driver by requiring an alcohol-free breath sample. If the driver fails the BAC breath test, the vehicle will not start until a period of time passes and a clean breath sample is submitted.

What Is an IID?

Under Iowa state law, the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for noncommercial drivers over the age of 21 is 0.08 percent or 0.04 percent for commercial drivers, and 0.02 percent for those under 21. The breathalyzer test is, of course, one of the most common tools law enforcement uses to determine if a driver is over that legal limit. Duke University explains that when using this tool, the subject exhales into a mouthpiece and that exhalation of breath joins a solution of potassium dichromate in the gadget's test chamber. The solution turns reddish-orange when exposed to alcohol, and the device reads the color to produce a quantitative value for the BAC.

An ignition interlock device, as Gorelick Law Offices notes, is essentially a car breathalyzer that is attached to the steering column of a motor vehicle. The IID restricts the driver by requiring an alcohol-free breath sample. If the driver fails the BAC breath test, the vehicle will not start until a period of time passes and a clean breath sample is submitted. Additionally, the driver may be required to submit "rolling" breath samples as they drive, with some time allowed to pull over for safety.

The IID also records various types of data. According to the IID manufacturers at Alcolock, this data may include the time and date of the startup and rolling tests, breath sample results and travel distance. Some devices may even feature a camera to ensure that the OWI offender is the one taking the test, as well as a GPS to track location data. IID-equipped drivers pay monitoring fees, as the data is transmitted to agencies such as the department of transportation, caseworkers, courts or parole officers.

When Is an Ignition Interlock Installation Required?

Under certain circumstances, Iowa courts have the right to require the installation of an ignition interlock device in the vehicles of those who break the state's OWI laws. After their second OWI conviction, all offenders are required to install an IID in their vehicles, regardless of BAC levels.

In July of 2018, state legislation revised the OWI and IID laws throughout Iowa. Under this law, even first-time offenders are required to have an IID in their vehicle if they have a temporary restricted license following a conviction for operating while intoxicated. Previously, the offender needed a BAC of at least 0.10 percent on the first offense for this to be the case.

However, the more stringent insistence on IIDs simultaneously allows the Hawkeye State to loosen some driving privilege restrictions on OWI offenders. Before the 2018 law, Iowans with a temporary restricted license – a common case after an OWI conviction – were allowed to drive only to and from work. Now that an IID is a bar-none requirement for those with temporary driver's licenses, those restrictions have been eliminated.

Iowa Ignition Interlock Device Installation Rules

Under Iowa Code Section 321J.4, ignition interlock devices installed following an OWI conviction must remain installed for a period that can't exceed the maximum prison sentence for the violation in question. If a person fails to install the device within what the statute calls "reasonable time" following an order, they may be held in contempt of court.

When an IID device is required, it must be of a type approved by the state's commissioner of public safety and must be installed in all vehicles owned or operated by the defendant. In Iowa, those who tamper with or circumvent IID devices installed under a court order may be found guilty of a misdemeanor, and are subject to penalties including a fine of $315 up to $1,875 and time behind bars maxing out at one year of jail time, according to the West Des Moines law firm of McCarthy and Hamrock P.C.

How Much Does an IID Cost?

Monetary costs are one consequence of drunk driving, and those costs extend to the installation of court-ordered ignition interlock devices, too. Typically, it's up to the OWI offender to cover the costs of installation and maintenance of the IID.

According to estimates from Nolo, the installation of an IID ranged from about $50 to $150 in 2020, depending on the driver's location and the type of vehicle. Drivers don't usually own their IIDs, but lease them, and they are required to pay the cost of the lease in addition to monitoring and maintenance services for the device, which can cost between $50 and $150 per month.

Finally, when it comes time to remove the device, OWI offenders are looking at yet another fee ranging from about $50 to $150 for professional removal.

Drunk Driving: Are IIDs Effective?

According to nonpartisan estimates reported by KGAN CBS 2, the state of Iowa was projected to save $900,000 for the fiscal year 2019 following the updated IID law. Finances aside, are IIDs effective in terms of the far more essential human costs of drunk driving?

For starters, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that states that require all-offender IID installation experience a reduction of about 16 percent in impaired driving crashes, while the University of Pennsylvania says that these laws decrease related deaths by 15 percent. Mothers Against Drunk Driving estimate that IID systems have prevented well over 1.77 million drunk drivers from taking the wheel in the U.S.

IID Tampering and Road Safety

On the downside, IIDs can't tell who provides the breath sample if they're not equipped with a camera, which may result in gaming the system or tampering. Physical tampering, however, is very difficult, may damage the vehicle and will eventually be recorded by the device.

Speaking to CBS 2 about the state's IID law and the general efficacy of interlock systems in 2018, Chief Patrick Hoye of the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau puts it plainly: "Obviously, that’s going to make it safer for my family and any family, because that drunk driver is not out on the road."