State Politics

Get a DUI in 2019 and you’ll be paying $1K or more to put a breathalyzer in your car

Idaho authorities kicked off 2019 with a new policy that aims to keep drivers from getting behind the wheel after drinking.

Convicted first-time DUI offenders must now pay to have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle under a law the Idaho Legislature passed last year and that went into effect Jan. 1. Drivers must also pay a monthly operation cost that could total over $1,000 for the one year the devices are required.

An interlock device requires that a driver blow into the breathalyzer to make sure they are sober before the vehicle will start. Before the bill passed, Idaho law largely called for an interlock device only for someone’s second DUI offense or above.

The law requires the ignition interlocks be equipped with cameras to make sure it is the driver’s breath being tested, rather than a passenger or other party.

The bill was endorsed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and AAA, and it had bipartisan support, passing the House 55-14 and the Senate 21-12.

When the bill was signed, Mothers Against Drunk Driving called it a triumph in deterring repeat offenders. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that ignition interlocks devices reduced repeat offenses for DUIs by about 70 percent if the device was installed.

As of Friday afternoon, 23 people had already been booked into the Ada County Jail in 2019 on suspected driving under the influence. From midnight Jan. 1 to 11 a.m. Jan. 2, 13 people were booked into the Canyon County jail for a suspected DUI. If all of those drivers are convicted, that’s at least 36 people in those counties who could be required to use an ignition interlock device.

During the 2017 holiday season, 292 people were arrested for drunk driving across the state, according to the Idaho Transportation Department. The total count for the 2018 holiday season wasn’t immediately available.

The Idaho Transportation Department’s Office of Highway Safety did not have an immediate estimate on how many new interlock devices would be needed nor for the expected cost of the devices.

ITD said last year when the bill was under consideration that the cost of the interlock devices could vary.

ITD reported that installing an interlock device can range from $50 to $150, and their use costs between $50 and $175 a month. That means a first-time DUI offender could be required to pay as much as $2,250 a year for their interlock device. The price varies based on the company providing the device, so some could be closer to $1,000 a year.

The new law permits the courts to determine whether an offender may use available money from the court interlock device and electronic monitoring device fund to obtain and use the device. The interlock device and electronic monitoring device fund comes from a surcharge that all people convicted of driving under the influence must pay.

When the bill passed, lawmakers knew the potential impact to that fund was unclear.

Neighboring Utah also implemented a strict new DUI law in 2019. The state lowered the threshold for the legal blood alcohol content to 0.05 percent — the lowest DUI limit in the country.

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Reporter Ruth Brown covers the criminal justice and correctional systems in Idaho. She focuses on breaking news, public safety and social justice. Prior to coming to the Idaho Statesman, she was a reporter at the Idaho Press-Tribune, the Bakersfield Californian and the Idaho Falls Post Register.