Written by attorney Maury Devereau Beaulier

DWI - Minnesota's Alcohol Interlock 2011

Starting July 1, 2011, Minnesota Statutes will allow driver’s with multiple DWI offenses to reinstate their license at an earlier time with an alcohol interlock device installed in their vehicle. The law will also require an alcohol interlock device on vehicles for first offenders who had a blood-alcohol level of .16 or higher. The program is not without its costs, however, creating arguments that many driver’s will be unable to afford the alcohol interlock system disadvantaging those with lower incomes.

What is an Alcohol Interlock Device?

An "Ignition interlock device" or "device" means breath alcohol ignition equipment designed to prevent a motor vehicle's ignition from being started by a person whose alcohol concentration exceeds the calibrated setting on the device.

What Standards are required for the device?

The law provides the Commissioner of Public Safety with a great deal of discretion in determining performance standards. It states that the commissioner will specify performance standards for ignition interlock devices, including standards relating to accuracy, safe operation of the vehicle, and degree of difficulty rendering the device inoperative. The interlock ignition device must be designed to operate from a 12-volt DC vehicle battery and be capable of locking a motor vehicle's ignition when a minimum alcohol concentration of 0.020 grams of ethyl alcohol per 210 liters of breath is introduced into the device. The device must also require a breath sample to determine alcohol concentration at variable time intervals ranging from five to 30 minutes while the engine is running. The device must also be capable of recording information for later review that includes the date and time of any use of the vehicle or any attempt to use the vehicle, including all times that the vehicle engine was started or stopped and the alcohol concentration of each breath sample provided. The commissioner shall certify ignition interlock devices that meet the performance standards and may charge the manufacturer of the ignition interlock device a certification fee. A manufacturer who submits a device for certification must provide an application for certification on a form prescribed by the department.

How much does an ignition interlock device cost?

According to the Commissioner of Public Safety, an ignition interlock device costs between $60 and $125 per month, depending on the vendor. Ignition interlock vendors may charge up to $100 to install and $50 to remove the ignition interlock from your vehicle.

Who qualifies for an Alcohol Interlock Device?

The commissioner may issue a limited license to a person whose driver's license has been canceled and denied due to an alcohol or controlled substance-related incident, under the following conditions:

(1) at least one-half of the person's required abstinence period has expired;

(2) the person has successfully completed chemical dependency treatment and is currently participating in a generally recognized support group based on ongoing abstinence; and

(3) the person agrees to drive only a motor vehicle equipped with a functioning and certified ignition interlock device.

How long is participation required?

The length of time a driver must use an alcohol interlock device depends on the number of prior offenses and the length of the license revocation or cancellation period. The time period can be extended if a driver violates any of the program rules or if you have other driving-related problems.

What happens if I allow a person who is supposed to use an Interlock to drive my car?

A person who knowingly lends, rents, or leases a motor vehicle that is not equipped with a functioning ignition interlock device to a person with a limited license issued under the law may be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine

What happens if a driver with an interlock device violates the conditions of the program?

A person who tampers with, circumvents, or bypasses the ignition interlock device, or assists another to tamper with, circumvent, or bypass the device, may be charged with a misdemeanor which is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine. The exception is if the action was taken for emergency purposes or for mechanical repair, and the person limited to the use of an ignition interlock device does not operate the motor vehicle while the device is disengaged.

What happens if a driver violates the conditions of the program with a positive alcohol reading or for other reasons?

The commissioner will cancel the driver’s limited license issued under this section if the device registers a positive reading for use of alcohol (.02 or more) or the person violates any conditions of the limited license.

A violation would include having another individual provide the breath sample for the Interlock Device. A breath sample is required not just when the vehicle is being started, but also may require the driver to blow into it occasionally when the vehicle is in operation. This is called a “rolling retest" and is designed to prevent having someone blow for the driver.

What happens if someone else drives my vehicle and blows a fail?

Anyone, including other household members, who uses the vehicle must provide a breath test before starting the vehicle and they may be required to provide tests while the vehicle is being driven. It is critical to note, the participant is responsible for all tests recorded on the vehicle’s ignition interlock, whether that person is the driver or not. A failed breath test will be recorded on the interlock device and downloaded at the monthly maintenance appointment. This data is viewed each month by your probation officer or a representative from DVS to verify compliance. After three non-compliant tests between service appointments, the device will notify the user of a pending “lock out" that will take effect after 72 hours. The user will need to call the interlock vendor for a code within 48 hours of this notice, key this code into the handset and follow up with a service appointment with the interlock installation service center. The user will be required to pay the $50 “lock out" fee.

A positive test may also result in the cancellation of the limited license or an extension of the time where an interlock device must be used. .

Will happens if I test positive for alcohol while driving?

A vehicle will not start without a passing breath test. However, the interlock system will not shut off your engine if a breath test is failed. That failure is recorded and, when reviewed at the monthly maintenance check , may result in the cancellation of the limited license.

How will the things I eat, drink, smoke, or put on my body (such as cologne) affect the interlock test?

According to the Department of Public Safety, some substances will affect the test and could give a false positive.

Mouthwash: Some mouthwash brands and sprays have up to 30 percent alcohol; these will definitely create a positive test on your interlock. The DPS recommends that you switch to a non-alcoholic mouthwash while using the ignition interlock device. Alcohol levels from mouthwash or sprays should start to drop within 15 minutes, and washing your mouth out with water will help it drop faster.

Certain foods: Most foods will not cause the ignition interlock device to fail.

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