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Ignition Interlock Law Revised for 2011
by Jon Scott Fox   March 2010

The legislature has amended a significant portion of Washington State's DUI laws effective January 1, 2011. It is expected that the governor will sign SHB 2742, a law that makes significant changes to the statutes regarding ignition interlock devices. I will summarize the major changes in this article, but the full text of the law can be found here.

Current Law

Washington State's current ignition interlock law provides that during a license suspension resulting from a DUI arrest or conviction, a driver may drive only if the vehicle he is driving is equipped with an ignition interlock device pursuant to an "Ignition Interlock License." This license permits the driver to drive so long as the vehicle is equipped with an ignition interlock, and "high risk" insurance is in effect. In addition, after a DUI conviction, the law states that an individual may only drive a vehicle that is equipped with an ignition interlock device for a period of at least one year beyond the reinstatement of the license.

Problems with Work Vehicles

The current law provides an important exception to the ignition interlock requirement for an employee driving an employer-owned vehicle as a requirement of the job. Thus, for example, a UPS driver subject to the law must have the ignition interlock device on any vehicle he drives except the UPS truck he drives for work as a requirement of his job. This exception to the ignition interlock requirement is fine so far as it goes, but individuals subject to the law who fly to distant location for business are distressed to find that the current exception to the ignition interlock law does not permit them to drive a rental vehicle since the rental vehicle is not owned by the driver's employer. The new ignition interlock law effective January 1, 2011, attempts to solve this problem and states that an ignition interlock device is not necessary "on vehicles owned, leased, or rented by a person's employer and on those vehicles whose care and/or maintenance is the temporary responsibility of the employer, and driven at the direction of the person's employer as a requirement of the employment during work hours." (RCW 46.20.720(3) as amended effective 1/1/2011). This amendment is undeniably well intentioned and it appears to offer a viable solution to the traveling business person who is subject to the ignition interlock law. However, there remains a significant barrier existing for the traveling business person who subject to the ignition interlock law and who needs to rent a vehicle at a location out of state. The problem is that the "ignition interlock license" looks nothing like a license. It is a full-size sheet of paper that states that it is a license. Every car rental agency known to this author expects to see a plastic license of standard size and issue and will not rent a vehicle to a person unless such a license is produced. At the time of the writing of this article, the DOL has not seen fit to issue a "normal" looking ignition interlock license, although it is within the DOL's power to do so. Therefore, the law presents a legal solution that practical reality may reveal as ineffective. On the other hand, the new DUI ignition interlock amendments do provide a solution for the mechanic who must test drive vehicles for customers since the new law does not require an interlock "on those vehicles whose care and/or maintenance is the temporary responsibility of the employer, and driven at the direction of the person's employer as a requirement of the employment during work hours."

Drugged Driving and Interlock

Our Washington State DUI law provides in part that a DUI is committed when one drives under the influence of alcohol OR when one drives when one drives when under the influence of drugs. "Drugged driving" occurs when the driver is impaired by drugs, even if the drugs are legal and prescribed. In recent years, law enforcement has targeted the apprehension of persons who are suspected of driving under the influence of drugs and the number of "drug/DUI" prosecutions is increasing. A conviction for a drug/DUI carries with it exactly the same penalties as for an alcohol-based DUI, including license suspension. Under current law a driver convicted of an alcohol-based DUI will have the license suspended but that driver may apply for an ignition interlock license that will permit driving during the period of license suspension. However, current law does not allow a driver convicted of a drug/DUI to apply for an ignition interlock license and thus, such drivers are prevented from driving anywhere, for any purpose, during the period of suspension. The new DUI ignition interlock law will permit a driver convicted of a drug/DUI to apply for an ignition interlock license and drive under the same terms that apply to those convicted of an alcohol-based DUI. This approach removes an inequity from current law. However, the logically sound approach would have been to exempt drug/DUI drivers from the ignition interlock requirement since the rationale supporting the imposition of DUI ignition interlocks in the first place is to change the habits of the drinking driver. Perhaps a "drug interlock" will be invented for use in such circumstances.

Removal of the Ignition Interlock

There comes a time when the driver is no longer required to have an ignition interlock in the vehicle. Under current law, the interlock is removed without any fanfare or paperwork when the required "interlock time" has been served. The new law will complicate the process of removal. Effective January 1, 2011, the law will prevent the removal of the ignition interlock device, despite the driver having served the statutorily required "ignition interlock time," unless the Department of Licensing has on record a declaration from the ignition interlock provider that states that none of the following have occurred within the previous four months.

  • An attempt to start the vehicle with a breath alcohol concentration of 0.04 or more
  • Failure to take or pass any required retest
  • Failure of the person to appear at the ignition interlock device vendor when required for maintenance, repair, calibration, monitoring, inspection, or replacement of the device

Thus, the new law keeps the ignition interlock requirement in place, potentially forever, if any of the above occurs within four months of the date the law would otherwise permit removal of the device. This requirement seems fair on its face but a number of practical problems will plague drivers: First, ignition interlock devices can produce false positive readings under certain circumstances when the driver has not been drinking. Second, there is no room in the law for valid reasons why an individual might fail to appear at the ignition interlock vender when scheduled for maintenance etc. Under the law as written, a flat tire or illness that causes a driver to miss the scheduled maintenance at the vendor will result in a penalty of an additional four months of ignition interlock. Third, the ignition interlock vendor has a financial incentive to "cut no slack" to the driver who misses a maintenance appointment, no matter how valid the reason, since the vendor then has an additional four months of revenue from the driver who is paying monthly for the device. Fourth, the DUI ignition interlock law as written states that the ignition interlock requirement remains in effect "until the department receives a declaration from the person's ignition interlock device vendor" showing compliance with the "four month" rule. This places the driver at the mercy of the vendor's business practices. Some vendors will timely file the appropriate document with the DOL, others will not. The law provides no avenue relief for the driver who is otherwise eligible to have the ignition interlock device removed where the vendor is dragging his feet in filing the necessary paperwork with the department of licensing.

A driver subject to the ignition interlock law after January 1, 2011 will be well advised to choose the ignition interlock provider carefully. The driver will want to be sure that the device is the most reliable available and that the vendor has a process in place to timely file all necessary documents with the department of licensing.

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