A Closer Look: Interlock DUI Program

Pleasanton lawyer says new law brings higher and more complex DUI costs, especially for repeat offenders.

Requiring in-car breathalyzers as a consequence for driving under the influence makes it much costlier for offenders — but that's the point.

John Noonan, a Pleasanton-based lawyer, said he has counseled about 10 clients asking about the new law, which began on July 1 in Alameda County, that requires DUI offenders to install an ignition interlock device.  Most questions from clients, he said, were about how much the device would cost.

The law is stricter because it now requires first-time offenders to install the device in their vehicles, which requires breath-tests before and during driving for the car to operate.

"A DUI is not an easy thing to pay for and costs can come from many sides," he said. "In addition to the regular fees and the probable insurance hikes associated with DUIs, you'll now have to pay for installing and maintaining this device."

Noonan said he has directed some of his clients to sliding-scale programs at the Department of Motor Vehicles that help reduce costs.

However, repeat offenders face a bevy of higher costs (see chart).  Not only will repeat offenders have to maintain the IID for longer periods, requiring more calibration fees, but they might also be required to purchase higher-cost, advanced IIDs.

"I've even heard of IID models now that are camera activated," Noonan said. "If the first deterrent is not working because the offender is either not complying with the IID requirements or trying somehow to duck them, the court will seek another route that will probably be more expensive for the offender."

Noonan said the majority of his interlock-related clients since July 1 were first-time offenders.  He also said several clients were pulled over by police during Independence Day weekend.

One of the most confusing things so far for clients, according to Noonan, is the range of costs.

"I usually let people shop around a bit to see which interlocks are available and at what prices," Noonan said. "It's important for them to choose the right one at the right cost because even a first-timer will have to use that device for several months."

Rainbow Auto Center in Hayward has been a long-time installer of interlock devices.  Its current owner Peter Solis said the full-service auto shop usually receives customers from Pleasanton because it is one of the closest certified interlock installers to the city. Offenders may go to any device installer certified by the DMV, even one outside the county of conviction.

Solis said the shop started device installation about seven years ago, when they were mostly used as a deterrent for repeat offenders. 

Business has not risen dramatically since the new law began July 1, Solis said.

"We've seen a couple people but it usually takes some time for the law to kick in and more start coming in," he said.

The main IID unit used at Rainbow Auto Center is the Alco 3000, installed for $135. Costs can vary widely, according to Solis, who said he does not charge for the required calibration every two months.

"I know some shops charge to calibrate, some don't," he said. "Costs can also go up and down depending on your car.  A specific model might require a specific kind of IID."

Solis said customers are initially uncomfortable with the in-car breathalyzer but eventually get used to operating and maintaining it.

"It's like most new things in your car like a GPS or CD player," he said. "Most complaints come in the beginning when customers don't know the device well, but they get over that hump with the owners' manuals or video tutorials we offer."

The new law is operating under a statewide pilot program that will also require the same DUI-related interlock installations in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare counties.

Noonan said the enforcement of the new law could create problems across county lines.

"The law is applied differently across counties.  For example, an IID could be required if you live in Contra Costa County but are arrested for a DUI in Alameda County," he said. "So whether you're required to have an IID can change within a matter of miles."

However, Noonan said he expected the DMV to expand the program statewide, effectively eliminating cross-county problems, if IIDs are shown to deter DUI offenders from repeating what is often a costly mistake.

"The new IID law makes driving drunk more expensive," he said. "But if you want to drive after a DUI, this program will be something that you have to go through."

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