Expand Use of Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Devices

The state should make breath alcohol ignition interlock devices mandatory for repeat DWI offenders as a condition of probation.

In 1991, there were 112,022 arrests for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in Texas. 1 DUI is the crime of driving or operating any motor vehicle while drunk or under the influence of liquor or narcotics. 2 There were 6,687 felony Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) convictions and 86,088 convictions in Texas County Courts for DWI and DUID (driving under the influence of drugs). That same year, there were 2,696 fatal injury accidents, with 3,073 fatal injuries on Texas roads. 3 Alcohol was a contributing factor in 40 percent (1,068) of the fatal accidents and 40 percent of fatal injuries (1,246). 4

In addition, property damage caused by drunk drivers in 1990 was estimated at almost $200 million and economic productivity lost, due to injuries, estimated at more than $55 million. 5 Between 1985 and 1989, while the number of arrests for DWI dropped in Texas, the number of multiple DWI offenders arrested remained the same. 6 This indicates that despite tougher penalties, many of those previously convicted of drunk driving continue to drive under the influence of alcohol. In 1985, 29 percent of DWI arrests in Texas were repeat offenders; by 1988 that figure had risen to 36 percent. 7

While agreement is universal that this is a serious problem and must be handled like other crimes, controversy persists over what should be the appropriate punishment for offenders. The normal sentence for first, second and even third time offenders are fi nes, loss of license, DWI education and/or probation, although jail (and prison for the third offense) time is an available punishment. For fourth time or subsequent repeat offenders, jail, prison or substance abuse treatment sentences are not uncommon.

In 1991, there were 1,285 admissions (3.3 percent of total admissions) to the Texas prison system for DWI felony convictions. 8 The average DWI-offender prison population is about 500 on any given day. Furthermore, at any given time, it is estimated there are between 3,500 and 4,500 offenders in county jails convicted of DWI offenses. 9 Jail and prison sentences for DWIs are often reserved only for the most serious repeat offenders. Based on the numbers who continue to commit this crime, even after three and four prior convictions, a reasonable conclusion is that traditional probation for DWI offenders is not an effective way to prevent recidivism (r elapse into criminal behavior).

There is another form of probation which would be both more effective in reducing the number of repeat offenders and serve as an alternative to jail or substance abuse treatment facilities, both of which will keep the offe nder off the street for a time, but are quite costly forms of punishment.

For several decades safety experts have discussed the idea of a device that could evaluate and prevent impaired drivers from operating a motor vehicle. A car that could sense the capability of its driver and refuse to operate if the driver was not capable of safe performance... was the challenge presented to inventors, engineers and academicians during the 1970s and early 1980s. 10 A device to lock the ignition if the driver failed to prove capable of driving safely was sought.

By the early 1980s, several such ignition locking devices were tested. There were two basic ignition interlock categories: performance-based and alcohol sensors. The performance-based types were designed to correlate tests of behavior, such as eye-hand coo rdination, reaction time and memory with blood alcohol levels. Alcohol sensors measure the ethyl alcohol content of breath. Research proved the alcohol sensors to be superior.

This type of device, known as a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (BAIID), performs two functions. It tests or measures the blood alcohol content or concentration (BAC) and locks the ignition until the test is successfully passed. Technology has produced numerous add-on feature s which make the device more accurate, reliable and difficult to bypass. Among such features are: breath codes to enable the machine to recognize the driver; pressure sensitive sensors to compensate for altitude and prevent bypass from such devices as ball oons or plastic bags; devices to record all activity such as successful and failed starting attempts; power disconnects and other bypass attempts; random retest features which allow retest after a pre-set time after an initial successful start and programm able units that operate only during certain hours of the day. 11

As of October 1992, 23 states, including Texas, had adopted laws allowing their courts (or departments of motor vehicles) to order the installation of a BAIID on the vehicles of persons convicted of DWI offenses. 12 In most cases, it is a sanction in addition to, not a substitute for, other penalties. In 1987, the Texas Legislature permitted the use of these devices in Texas. The judge has the discretion to order an individual convicted of a second or subsequent DWI offense and whose license has been suspended to install, at the offender s own expense, a deep-lung analysis mechanism to make the motor vehicle unusable if any ethyl alcohol is detected on the breath of the restricted operator. 13

The California Legislature recently passed legislation that will require repeat offenders to install a breath analyzer in their car. This legislation, which was unanimously approved by the California Assembly and signed by the Governor on September 15, 199 2, will go into effect on July 1, 1993. This bill requires the device to be installed in the vehicle of all second and subsequent offenders. The BAIID will prevent starting the vehicle if BAC is .02 percent or higher, even though the standard for DWI in Ca lifornia is .08 percent. The California Department of Motor Vehicles estimated between 60,000 and 65,000 drivers each year will be subject to the new law. A device manufacturer estimates that California may need as many as 80,000 units. 14

In Texas there are 740 interlock devices installed and serviced by the only state-approved vendor. 15 More than 200 of these units are in Richardson, Texas, and nearly 200 are in Houston, where judges favor such a program. 16 Judge James Barkley of Harris County, a long-tim e supporter of the device, has been sentencing repeat offenders to the interlock device for several years. He stated the recidivism rate for those on the device is less than 1 percent, and he thinks there is long-term behavior modification after the device is removed, although he can cite no evidence other than anecdotal. 17 No national data support claims of long-term behavior modification.

Studies in other states have provided mostly positive reviews of the interlock devices and their impact upon recidiv ism. A California study conducted in four pilot counties indicated that the reduction in recidivism was about 29 percent and in one county (San Diego, where the program had more judicial support) the reduction was more than 61 percent. 18 A study of a BAIID program in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, revealed a rearrest rate for users of the BAIID of 1 percent versus an average long-term recidivism rate of 25 percent. 19 A Hamilton County, Ohio, study found a rearrest rate 65 percent lower for those using an interlock device compared to the control group who did not have such a device installed. 20

Despite the tremendous prison building program the state has undertaken in the last ten years (from just over 30,000 prison beds to more than 55,000) there remains a backlog of more than 20,000 prison bound inmates in county jails. 21 Any programs which can divert offenders from the most expensive form of punishment prison which costs between $35 and $50 dollars per day, to a community-based program, which costs on ly $2 per day, makes good sense. The state will never be able to reduce the jail backlog without reducing the demand for those expensive beds. Innovative programs which divert non-violent offenders from prison into more community-based sanctions, such as B AIIDs, should be explored. A properly implemented BAIID program should reduce corrections costs and promote public safety through safer roads.

Car-mounted breath alcohol ignition interlock devices (BAIID) should be made mandatory for repeat DWI offenders as a condition of probation and for receiving an occupational driver s license.

This device should be required for all second and subsequent offenses as an additional sanction. This sanction would apply to those who desire to have their suspended license reinstated. Installing a BAIID would be required to obtain an occupational dirver s license. Since the offender can continue to earn a living, he or she pays for the device, through a lease program.

Fewer drunk drivers, esp ecially repeat drunk drivers (who are more likely to have higher BAC levels than first offenders) are likely to be on the roads if this recommendation is enacted. Loss of life and property due to alcohol-related traffic accidents should be reduced substant ially. Arrests for repeat DWI offenders should be reduced by between 29 and 65 percent based on other states experiences. Court costs should decrease substantially. The demand for prison and jail beds will be reduced due to fewer arrests and fewer convictions for DWI.

The cost of the device is borne by the offender. The cost runs about $60 to $70 per month for the term of the sentence. These units are leased from the manufacturers who provide periodic servicing and monitoring. The communication link between the manufact urer s service representative and the court is essential for the success of such a program. The representatives must report all evidence of tampering and attempts to override the system to the court.

The most frequently cited objection to the program in all state studies is cost. There is concern regarding low-income offenders ability to pay for the device. Some states addressed this by having financial assistance programs. A study conducted in Harris County found that among 2,500 DWI offen ders interviewed, the average monthly income was $1,331. On average offenders spent an average of $375 (28 percent of income) per month on alcohol. Just a small reduction in drinking (16 percent) would pay for the interlock program. Also, some insurance co mpanies give rate reductions for DWI offenders who have such a device installed. An interlock device should be more effective than license suspension, since it is generally accepted that up to 75 percent of those under license suspension continue to drive. 22

Most BAIID users surveyed felt good about using an interlock device. Studies indicated 95 percent reported it was successful in preventing them from driving and 93 percent reported it had been successful in changing their drinking and driving habits. 23

Fiscal Impact
The primary benefit to the state would be safer highways and reduced loss of life and property. There are several associated benefits, such as fewer accidents, which will result i n less police and ambulance time, less loss in productivity and perhaps lower insurance rates. No attempt is made to estimate these amounts. The main goal of this program would be the reduction in drinking and driving, not a reduction in recidivism. Since only a few of the estimated total drunk drivers are arrested, the chances of being rearrested are actually quite small. A reduction in recidivism, however, will provide some financial benefit to the state by reducing the demand for prison and jail beds.

Based on a 35 percent reduction in recidivism, it is estimated that there will be a reduction in demand for 175 prison beds and 1,400 jail beds. The 35-percent reduction factor was selected based on the California pilot program, modified by eliminating one county s results, since there was little support for the pr ogram in that county. By reducing the demand for prison and jail beds, there would be a resulting savings to the General Revenue Fund. This is due to several lawsuits involving the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The savings can be obtained du e to the avoidance of federal court fines for a certain number of Harris County jail inmates imposed by the judge in the Alberti case and a reduction in the payments made to counties per H.B. 93 (due to the Nueces County case). Only the impact on Harris County is included in the estimate of general revenue saved. The impact on other counties due to the reduction in the demand for their jail space is thought to be quite substantial, although data are not available to make an accurate estimate.

Fiscal Savings to the General Change
Year Revenue Fund 001 in FTEs

1994 $ 0 0
1995 3,630,000 0
1996 6,470,000 0
1997 7,250,000 0
1998 7,250,000 0

1 Texas Department of Public Safety, Crime in Texas 1991 (Austin, Texas, 1992), p. 39.
2 Ibid.
3 Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse , Current Trends in Substance Use, Texas 1992 (Austin, Texas, May 1992), p. 5.
4 Ibid.
5 Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, by Eric V. Fredlund, DWI Recidivism in Texas 1985 through 1988 (Austin, Texas, 1991), p 5.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 1991 Fiscal Year Statistical Report (Austin, Texas, 1991), p. 42.
9 Interview with Robyn Cohen, Statistician, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., December 8, 1992.
10 U. S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Potential for Application of Ignition Interlock Devices to Prohibit Operations of Motor Vehicles By Intoxicated Individuals, A Report to Congress, May 1988 by Richard P. Compton (Washington D.C., May 1988), p. 2.
11 Robert H. Linnel and Sallie J. Mook, Ignition Interlock Devices: An Assessment of their Application to Reduce DUI (Tollhouse, California: Harmony Institute, Inc., July 1991), p. 9.
12 Interv iew with Robert H. Linnell, Consultant on Environmental Health and Safety, White River Junction, Vermont, November 30, 1992; and interview with James Frank, Research Psychologist, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, D.C., November 3 0, 1992.
13 Vernon s Texas Civ. Stat., art. 6687b, sec. 23A(f) .
14 Interview with Roy Sheram, Vice-President, Guardian Interlock Systems, Atlanta, Georgia, November 24, 1992.
15 Ibid.
16 Interview with Alvin Weathermon, Texas Department of Public Safety, Austin, Texas, December 7, 1992.
17 Telephone interview with Judge James Barkley, Harris County, November 24, 1992.
18 Evaluation of the California Ignition Interlock Pilot Program for DUI Offenders (Farr-Davis Driver Safety Act of 1986) Final Report, prepared by The EMT Group, Inc. (Sacramento, California, March 1990), p. 92.
19 Linnel and Mook, Ignition Interlock Devices, p. 23.
20 Ibid., p. 21.
21 Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Jail Population Report (Austin, Texas, December 1, 1992), p. 10.
22 Federal Register (June 26, 1989), p. 26793.
23 Evaluation of the California Ignition Interlock Pilot Program, p. 37.