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RMV Official Says Ignition Interlock Devices Have Stopped OUIs in Massachusetts

Since 2006, Massachusetts law has required an ignition interlock device for anyone convicted of a second or subsequent drunk driving offense. This provision, which is part of Melanie’s Law, was intended to keep repeat drunk drivers off the road. Massachusetts drunk driving criminal defense attorneys like me always had doubts about the program’s effectiveness — but popular support for anti-DUI measures helped sweep it into law anyway. Now, the Boston Globe reported Jan. 8, the Massachusetts registrar of motor vehicles, Rachel Kaprielian, says two years of data show that the devices have successfully deterred drunk driving.

An IID is essentially a breathalyzer attached to the car’s ignition. If one is installed, it is impossible to turn on the car until the driver passes a breathalyzer test, with “failure” defined as a BAC of 0.02 or greater — not 0.08. The driver must then breathe into the device every 20 minutes (even if the car is in motion). Drivers convicted of OUI twice or more must install IIDs at their own expense whenever they are granted a hardship license, and for two years thereafter. No technology stops other people from taking the test for the driver, but Melanie’s Law also includes criminal penalties for people who do this, or who lend cars to drivers with an IID in their own vehicles.

According to the article, Kaprielian based her statement on new statistics released by the state. Those statistics say that more than 4,000 drivers altogether have been required to use the ignition interlock devices since Melanie’s Law took effect. Of these, it says, hundreds have completed the two-year period. And of those who completed the period, the state said only 30 drivers have been charged with a third OUI. This is a recidivism rate of less than 2%, the Globe reported.

I don’t doubt that the state’s numbers are accurate — but I think they’re being used in a misleading way. The article says more than 4,000 drivers have gotten the device, but only hundreds have completed the two-year program successfully. Even assuming “hundreds” is close to 1,000, that means three-fourths of the drivers did not complete the period. The typical reasons for not completing it are not good — essentially, breaking some condition of probation, including failing the test even once. Thus, the recidivism rate among all drivers with the device installed, whether or not they completed the two-year period, must be substantially higher than 2%. This is probably not the wild success claimed by the state.

Massachusetts OUI defense lawyers like me doubted the effectiveness, safety and legality of IIDs from the beginning. For one thing, IIDs are used under conditions that make them even less reliable than police breathalyzer tests. They can easily be contaminated by substances from inside and outside the car. Furthermore, there’s nothing but state law stopping drivers from having friends take the tests for them, or borrowing a different car. And finally, a study of IIDs in California (PDF) has found that IIDs not only did not bring down subsequent convictions, but actually increased the risk of a crash.

The Law Offices of Stephen Neyman defends OUI charges in greater Boston and all of Eastern Massachusetts. Attorney Stephen Neyman can help people facing all types of intoxicated driving charges, including RMV license suspensions and serious charges like motor vehicle homicide. To learn more, please call our downtown Boston office for a free consultation at (617) 263-6800 or send a message through our Web site.

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