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Interlock Ignition Legislation in North Carolina

The Charlotte Observer reports that there are bills in the North Carolina General Assembly that would require all people convicted of DWI to use an ignition interlock for a period of time. An ignition interlock device has been described by the North Carolina Court of Appeals as a device which

requires a driver to pass an alcohol test by blowing into the device. The results are then recorded as logged events. If the device recognizes alcohol through the breath test, the vehicle is programmed not to start. Occasionally, an alcohol test will also be required while the vehicle is running. (Cole v. Faulkner 2002)

The current North Carolina statute allows a judge to include in any limited driving privilege order the condition that a driver use an interlock device. If a driver’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.15 or more, a judge is required to include the interlock device as a condition to granting limited driving privileges. In addition, a driver whose blood alcohol concentration was 0.15 or more is required to have the interlock device as a condition to the restoration of his driver’s license at the end of the revocation period. G.S. 20-17.8(a) subjects any driver convicted of dwi to an interlock device following restoration of their license when

(1)    The person had an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more;

(2)    The person has been convicted of another offense involving impaired driving, which offense occurred within seven years immediately preceding the date of the offense for which the person's license has been revoked; or

(3)    The person was sentenced pursuant to G.S. 20-179(f3).

If the original license revocation period was one year, then the period of time during which the driver must use the interlock device is also one year. If the original revocation period was four years, then the interlock device must be used for three years, and if the original revocation period was permanent, then the interlock device must be used for seven years. If a person violates the requirements in G.S. 20-17.8, they will be charged with driving with a revoked license pursuant to subsection (f).

The bills currently in the North Carolina General Assembly would change the ignition interlock requirements so that anyone with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more would be required to use the device for either a limited driving privilege or the restoration of a driver’s license. In addition, anyone under the age of 21 who is convicted of driving after consuming alcohol would be required to use the device.

North Carolina is not the first state to consider requiring the use of an interlock device after convictions for all DWI’s. In fact, one of the arguments of proponents of the bills is that the states which have such requirements (namely, Arizona, New Mexico, Louisiana, and West Virginia) have seen a drop in drunk-driving deaths by 35%. This decrease exceeds the decline in alcohol-related deaths seen in states that do not require the use of an ignition device after all DWI convictions.

The Charlotte Observer article notes that future technology might offer more innovative ways to prevent drunk driving. There is a prototype which was displayed last month that used infrared technology to measure a person’s blood alcohol content and then determine whether to start the car. The company’s website describes the technology as operating as follows:

the technology will automatically detect when a driver is intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above .08 - the legal limit in all 50 states - and prevent the car from moving. It will be made available as a safety option in new vehicles - like automatic braking, lane departure warning and other advanced driver assist vehicle technologies.

This type of technology would be useful especially in cases where a person is medically unable to use an ignition device because of a medical condition. Currently, a person in such circumstances can seek an exception to the ignition interlock requirement under subsection (l) of G.S. 20-17.8, which states

A person subject to this section solely for the reason set forth in subdivision (a)(1) of this section and who has a medically diagnosed physical condition that makes the person incapable of personally activating an ignition interlock system may request an exception to the requirements of this section from the Division. The Division shall not issue an exception to this section unless the person has submitted to a physical examination by two or more physicians or surgeons duly licensed to practice medicine in this State or in any other state of the United States and unless such examining physicians or surgeons have completed and signed a certificate in the form prescribed by the Division. Such certificate shall be devised by the Commissioner with the advice of those qualified experts in the field of diagnosing and treating physical disorders that the Commissioner may select and shall be designed to elicit the maximum medical information necessary to aid in determining whether or not the person is capable of personally activating an ignition interlock system. The certificate shall contain a waiver of privilege and the recommendation of the examining physician to the Commissioner as to whether the person is capable of personally activating an ignition interlock system.

We will continue to monitor the progress of these bill in the North Carolina General Assembly.

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