A new law will allow DWI offenders to regain driving privileges quickly — but only if they blow less than .02 every time they get behind the wheel.
Under the new law, offenders will have to use an ignition interlock device to drive legally in the state. An ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer, installed to a motor vehicle's dashboard, which tests a drivers blood alcohol concentration, before the vehicle's motor can be started. If a driver’s breath exceeds a preset breath-alcohol content limit, the car won’t start. The device will be programmed to stall the car at a lower BAC than the legal alcohol — which is 0.08.
If a driver fails a test, the vehicle will not operate.
The device has a reputation for being difficult to circumvent. Once the engine has been started, the IID will randomly require another breath sample. The unexpected request for a sample is designed to thwart a drunk driver trying to cheat the system by having a friend or family member blow into the IID to get the car started, said Sgt. Dave Zerwas of the Burnsville Police Department. Zerwas added that under the new law, those who tamper with the device or to help the offender by breathing into the device could be charged with a misdemeanor.
The law applies to both chronic drunk drivers and first-time offenders whose alcohol concentration was at least double the legal limit. The latter will be given a choice: They can get a limited license, as per standing statute, or regain full driving privileges if they agree to use the ignition interlock device.
That could be a costly choice, Zerwas said. The device must be installed in every vehicle the offender owns.
“They have to pay for that,” Zerwas said. “It’s a couple hundred dollars for one.”
The arrangement does provide some benefit to the offender, however. Currently, DWI offedners’ license is revoked for 12 months after an offense. Zerwas said the law will alleviate a common complaint: Many offenders can no longer get to work after their driving privileges are revoked.
The new law is just one of many steps legislators have taken to curb drunk driving in Minnesota. Court dockets are filled with DWI cases. Last year alone, 29,918 motorists were arrested for DWI, a 9 percent decrease from 2009 (32, 756).
In all, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety estimates that over 550,000 Minnesotans have a DWI on their record — a large chunk of the state’s 4.5 million residents.
Burnsville is no exception to the rule. Zerwas said that DWIs constitute a significant portion of total arrests in Burnsville. Last year, the BPD arrested 216 people on DWI charges. In 2009, the number was even higher — at 261. He said the BPD makes between five to 10 such arrests during a typical week.
On a whole, alcohol-related crashes account for approximately one-third of all state traffic deaths in Minnesota each year. The 131 alcohol-related deaths in 2010 is a drop from the 141 in 2009 and the lowest count since 1984, when this statistic was first measured. DPS’ Office of Traffic Safety attributes some of this drop to this ignition interlock system, which debuted with a pilot program in Hennepin County.