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Iii. Specific sanctions and remedies

Incapacitating the Vehicle

Ignition Interlocks

An ignition interlock device requires that each vehicle engine start be preceded by a low-BAC or alcohol-free breath sample. Some of the impetus for increasing interlock use in the United States has been the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). Under this law, States must provide legislative support for the interlock (or vehicle immobilization or impoundment) or risk loss of millions of dollars for highway construction purposes; this has been an effective incentive and as of early 2002, 43 States have some interlock program or enabling legislation. The interest in interlocks reflects evidence that they substantially reduce DWI while installed (Voas, Marques, Tippetts, and Beirness, 1999; Beck, Rauch, Baker, and Williams, 1999; Coben and Larkin, 1999). Interlocks reduce repeat DWI rates by 40-95 percent, but after their removal, re-offense rates climb to near control levels. For the DWI offenders and their families, interlocks provide benefits since they allow for continued normal participation in society, including the ability to drive legally and get to and from work or school. Monthly calibration checks and a BAC-test-logging feature on the interlock provide a way to maintain some control over driver behavior. The interlock log file yields a running behavioral record of the BAC profile of the offenders, accumulating an average of eight tests per day for each day on the interlock. In prior research, it has been reported that by the time the interlock is removed, an average of 2,370 breath tests were provided (Marques, Voas, Tippetts, and Beirness, 1999). The rate of breath tests exceeding the pre-set threshold (BAC≥.04 percent in Alberta, Canada) during the early months with an interlock has proven to be the best predictor yet reported of future repeat DWI offenses during the years after the interlock was removed from the vehicle (Marques, Tippetts, Voas, and Beirness, 2001; Marques et al., 2003). Alcohol-positive breath tests that occur near dawn hours - presumed evidence of a prior night’s binge - improve prediction of DWI by an additional 45 percent (Marques et al., 2003). This interlock record is, perhaps, the first objective behavioral profile available on a group that poses significant alcohol risks to itself and to the public. It is a good predictor, but NIAAA is sponsoring additional research evaluating a joint measurement of biological markers, interlock records and other assessments that might make this measure an even better predictor.

A study sponsored by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted in Maryland evaluated the interlock program on drivers with multiple alcohol-related driving offenses using a design where half of the eligible offenders were randomly assigned to the interlock condition for one year and the other half of eligible offenders received traditional probation services. The authors found that participation in the program reduced offenders’ risk of recidivism during the first 12 months by almost 65 percent. There was, however, no statistically significant difference between those offenders who participated in the program and those who did not during the second year (after the interlock was removed) (Beck et al., 1999).

The effectiveness of this sanction can be compromised in several ways: if the interlocks are not installed as ordered, if the offender finds a way to circumvent the device, uses a different car, or is not followed up to ensure compliance (EMT Group, 1990; Baker and Beck, 1991; Popkin, Stewart, Martell, and Birckmayer, 1992). Evidence suggests that interlocks reduce recidivism during the time they remain installed but may not alter underlying alcohol problems; therefore, recidivism rates may rise after the device is removed (Voas et al., 1999; Morse and Elliott, 1992; Popkin et al., 1992). It is not recommended that ignition interlocks be used as a substitute for license sanctions (Transportation Research Board, 1995) but rather as a condition of license reinstatement after a period of suspension. Some have argued that combining treatment with the interlock device may result in more long-term beneficial effects and that approach needs to be thoroughly evaluated (Marques and Voas, 1995).

It is also important to keep in mind the cost of these devices (at present, an installation fee between $100 and $200 and a $75 monthly fee). In most programs today, the burden falls on the offender to pay for it. When met with resistance, some experts have argued that the amount the offender pays for the device is far exceeded by the amount the offender may spend on alcohol during a similar period.

Other Immobilization Devices

In some jurisdictions, a repeat offender’s vehicle can be immobilized for a period of 30 days to six months using a “club” or “boot,” often in the offender’s driveway or near his or her place of residence. The effectiveness of these devices at reducing recidivism is promising. In the only jurisdiction where immobilization has been widely implemented, a study in Ohio showed that vehicle immobilization reduced recidivism during the immobilization period by 50 to 60 percent and by 25 to 35 percent during the post-sanction period (Voas, Tippetts, and Taylor, 1997; Voas, Tippetts, and Fell, 2000). One feature of immobilization is that offenders actually see their cars every day and are constantly reminded of the sanction.