Changes could be coming to the Texas interlock program

Legislators in Texas are considering a bill that would expand the state's ignition interlock program for drivers convicted of drunk driving. The measure would allow first-time DWI offenders to choose between driver's license suspension and installation of an ignition interlock device.

Ignition interlock basics

In the same way that police in Texas use an Intoxilyzer device to test a driver's breath for evidence of alcohol impairment, an ignition interlock device tests a driver's breath for alcohol before he or she may start the vehicle. If alcohol above a certain level is detected, the device prevents the engine from starting.

Many states, like Texas, require ignition interlocks for drivers who have been convicted of multiple DWI offenses. About half the states require interlocks for everyone convicted of drunk driving, even on a first offense. Others require the devices for first-time DWI offenders only under certain circumstances, for example if their blood alcohol content (BAC) levels were far above the legal limit.

Proposal would give first-time DWI offenders a choice

The bill currently under consideration in Texas, known as House Bill 2246, would expand the existing interlock program to include some first-time offenders on an opt-in basis. Instead of automatically receiving a license suspension, first-time DWI offenders in Texas would be given the option of installing an ignition interlock device instead. The device would remain in place for up to one year, depending on the individual circumstances of the case.

Supporters of the bill say the measure may be more effective than license suspensions at keeping impaired drivers off the road and preventing repeat DWI offenses. They point out that drivers convicted of first-time drunk driving often continue to drive, even with a suspended license, which some may regard as a matter of necessity. Thus, the potential for re-offending remains high. Proponents of the measure say they hope to reduce that potential by offering interlocks as an alternative to the loss of driving privileges.

Could universal interlocks be next?

Hundreds of thousands of vehicles nationwide are equipped with ignition interlocks, which have proven largely successful at keeping people off the road when they have had too much to drink.

A recent study at the University of Michigan recently examined the possibility of making interlocks a standard feature on all new vehicles sold in the United States rather than reserving them only for drivers convicted of DWI. The study, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health, predicted that the measure could dramatically reduce drunk driving fatalities. Whether the study will affect future legislation or vehicle design remains to be seen.

If you or a member of your family has been arrested for drunk driving in Texas, contact the experienced criminal defense lawyers at contact Granger and Mueller PC to assess your legal options and get help protecting your legal rights.