Enforcing New York’s Ignition Interlock Device Law Has Many Roadblocks

As of August 2010, anyone convicted of a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) offense in New York must use an ignition interlock device (IID) on any vehicle they drive. An IID attaches to a car's dashboard and captures a driver's breath sample to measure its alcohol content. The device stops the car from starting if the breath alcohol concentration is over the legal limit. The idea is to prevent drunks from driving instead of trying to pull over drunk drivers.

While this provision of the recently-passed Leandra's Law sounds aggressive and effective, the results suggest otherwise in New York City's five boroughs. Of the 2,136 people in the five boroughs required to install an IID on their car between August 2010 and the end of September 2011, only 471 (22 percent) did so. In other words, the law has been 78 percent ineffective in the city.

While convicted offenders face jail time for failing to install the device within 10 days of sentencing, there are many reasons the law is merely a paper tiger in most cases. Courts generally require the use of an IID for six-months. However, a DWI-impounded car cannot be retrieved from the police until a court-ordered treatment program is completed, which usually lasts six months. The issue is moot at that point.

Many offenders sell or "donate" their cars to friends or family members. Some simply don't drive during the six-month period, which relieves them of the duty to install the device. Others cannot drive for six months anyway as their license has been revoked. While these individuals are not strictly complying with the law, they are staying off of the road.

IIDs play an important role in stopping drunk drivers. The Traffic Injury Research Foundation reports that 71 percent of offenders with IIDs "blow fail," which means the IID detects intoxication and stops the car from starting. It is impossible to calculate how many lives have been saved because of effective IIDs.

Nevertheless, enforcement of New York's IID installation law is the biggest hurdle. While every county outside the five boroughs has its own monitor, only the probation department and the Queens District Attorney's Office monitor New York City. However, neither of those entities has authority to actually enforce the law. Local legislators are currently working to close loopholes and improve the law to prevent drunk drivers from endangering New York roads.