VOLUME 4, ISSUE 1
Ignition Interlock Devices
for ALL DWI Offenders:
In 2015, Texas enacted a set of expanded ignition interlock laws. Ignition interlock devices (IIDs) are breathalyzers that require drivers to blow into them in order to start their vehicle. If drivers blow over a set alcohol limit, their vehicle will not start.
As a condition of probation in Texas, second offenders, offenders with 0.15 percent blood alcohol concentration or higher, and offenders under 21 are required to have an IID if ordered by the court. The expanded ignition interlock law mandates that any driver convicted of a DWI must install an IID in his or her vehicle if he or she requests an occupational/provisional driver license, and that judges must issue an order for ignition interlock as a condition of bond on all second DWI offenses. In addition, first offenders may be ordered to do so, but it is at the discretion of the judge. Effective and consistent application and enforcement of this expanded use of IIDs remain a multifaceted and complicated challenge in Texas.
To help tackle these issues, Center for Alcohol and Drug Education Studies (CADES) researchers David Hodges and Jena Prescott, with the assistance of Dottie McDonald of SmartStart, Inc., have worked under a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to develop and teach the Texas Ignition Interlock Training for Criminal Justice Professionals over the last three years. CADES is part of the Center for Transportation Safety at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). Efforts are targeted at the top 25 counties with the highest number of alcohol-related impaired-driving fatalities, but also look at rural counties that may be underserved and do not receive as many training opportunities.
Hodges explains, “A lot of education has occurred over the last six years to help with the legal and administrative challenges.” The course is directed at law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and probation officers — each group with its own tailored 4-hour module since each group needs to know slightly different information about the entire ignition interlock topic.
For example, the statute allows judge’s discretion in waiving the mandatory installation requirement under certain circumstances if it is in the best interests of justice, and as long as that decision is entered in writing into the case record. In fact, a National Safety Council study conducted six years ago analyzed four rural counties to determine the rate of compliance with the IID statutes in repeat offender cases. Researchers found that, as a condition of being released on bond, only about 25 percent of the cases had ordered ignition interlocks for second offenders. As a condition of probation, about 75 percent of the cases were ordered to use ignition interlocks when the statutes required. Interviews revealed that there was a lack of knowledge about the discretionary clause details and how to enter exceptions on the record, as well as a lack of staff and resources to install and monitor the systems.
TTI is currently applying for a grant from TxDOT to conduct research that would determine if compliance has gone up in the four counties studied six years ago. “Nobody has done a study since then,” says Hodges. “And nothing has ever been done statewide.”
Other problems have surfaced over the last three years. Sometimes reported offender violations of ignition interlock are not sent to probation, prosecutors or judges while the offender is on bond. In addition, sometimes bond condition orders are not making their way to the Texas Department of Public Safety to push the department to issue a license with an ignition interlock restriction. All of this leads to the potential for the offender to slip through the cracks and drive without oversight in the time between being bonded out of jail and being tried in court.
The ignition interlock course covers a variety of subject matter surrounding these issues, including how the device operates, how to interpret the readings and the written report, and what officials can glean from the report.
“Judges and probation officers need to know the ins and outs,” says Hodges. “They need to understand what they are ordering and what the defendant is required to do.”
For example, there is a random retest that requires the driver to provide additional breath samples at random intervals while the vehicle is running to ensure he or she is not drinking and driving. The training also makes participants aware of the research from other states that shows how the device is highly effective at reducing recidivism rates.
“This is a very important curriculum and should be a part of every new justice-of-the-peace training, and particularly for those with no experience in law enforcement or with DWI cases. The training is very valuable and effective,” says attendee W.H. “Pete” Peterson, JP Precinct 1, Place 2, in McLennan County.
CADES has also partnered with the Texas Justice Court Training Center to offer a two-day summit, the Impaired Driving and Ignition Interlock Laws Summit, aimed at educating prosecutors, judges and probation officers about impaired driving and IIDs. The second summit occurred April 30 and May 1, 2019, in Longview, Texas.
Additional information about both of these programs can be found at https://groups.tti.tamu.edu/cades/.
“This is a very important curriculum and should be a part of every new justice-of-the-peace training, and particularly for those with no experience in law enforcement or with DWI cases. The training is very valuable and effective,” says attendee W.H. “Pete” Peterson, JP Precinct 1, Place 2, McLennan County.
As a condition of being released on bond, only about 25 percent of the cases had ordered ignition interlocks for second offenders.
As a condition of probation, about 75 percent of the cases were ordered to use ignition interlocks when the statutes required.