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Will the ignition interlock law save us from ourselves? Part 1

By Linda Atkinson
Executive Director
DWI Resource Center

In recent years, New Mexico has received a great deal of praise for passing strict laws mandating ignition interlock for all convicted DWI offenders. However, it would be unwise to view the interlock as a panacea for the state’s DWI issues. In our typical court mandated interlock sanction, two-thirds of New Mexico offenders still do not install igni­tion interlocks. The risk of detection for driving-while-suspended violations is low and many offenders choose to drive without a license rather than install an interlock. A few methods of avoidance offenders utilize include: Tell the court they will not be driving or don’t have a vehicle, purchase a cheap vehicle (in New Mexico one can purchase a vehicle without a valid driver’s license) and there are the offenders who drive a motorcycle, on which an ignition interlock device cannot be installed.

Research shows ignition interlocks reduce recidivism among both first-time and repeat DWI offenders.  Once ignition interlocks are removed from vehicles, recidivism rates of ignition inter­lock users are similar to the rates for offenders who did not install ignition inter­locks.

New Mexico is viewed as a national “leader” in mandating the use of “ignition interlock” devices to reduce alcohol-impaired driving.  However,New Mexico’s approaches have many systemic problems that seem to compromise the system’s potential and its performance at reducing impaired driving.  These issues deserve careful, independent study.

Issue: The executive and judicial branches are not carrying out the laws as intended.

Judicial – Many judges are not ordering interlocks because they resist the concept, they view the interlocks as unaffordable to the offenders, they lack confidence in the devices’ vendors and system oversight of them, or they accept offenders’ word that they aren’t driving or own no vehicles.  Courts are not uniformly giving close monitoring that devices are actually installed, maintained, and used, once ordered, and they are not uniformly giving close attention to device performance and devices’ reports about offender compliance.
Administrative – Many offenders don’t bother to request the ignition interlock licenses, since they can readily drive without a license with near-zero risk of detection.  Agencies are not giving close monitoring that devices are actually maintained once ordered, and they are not uniformly giving close attention to device performance and devices’ reports about offender compliance.

Vendors – Vendors are not closely monitored.  Instances of corrupt behavior by vendors have been detected without official response.

Enforcement – Courts, agencies and prosecutors have not followed up on these problems.


Issue: Individuals ordered to receive the devices are not complying with the law.

Noncompliance with required installation

Defeating after installation

Defeating by disabling

Defeating by deceit

Driving other vehicles


Issue:  Ignition interlock usage has little effect on system-wide DWI behavior

The devices are ordered most for people who are least likely to repeat

Most DWI injuries are caused by impaired drivers the device would not reach

Those most likely to recidivate are least likely to comply with the device requirements.

Failures in lack of community model

Lack of independent evaluation

Failures from undermining effective alternatives

Undermining driving restrictions

Undermining repeat offender penalties

Undermining general deterrence effects with those never arrested

Ignition interlock systems are an important technological advance in the battle against drunk driving, but on their own they will not win it. It’s easy to look at the immediate success while the device is installed and relax efforts to fight drunk driving in other areas, but the unfortunate truth is that the problem is not solved yet. Addressing long-term recidivism and compliance will be a start, but we cannot say we have won until drunk-driving is in fact a thing of the past.

Next week the status of ignition interlocks in the near future

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.
Henry Ford