POLICE ASSOCIATION OF NOVA SCOTIA 65 Ignition Interlock — Incentive or Punishment? An ignition interlock is a breath screening device which is installed in a vehicle. Before starting the car, the driver must blow into the device. The car will not start if the driverʼs blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above a pre-set limit. As long as the car is running, the driver is required to blow periodically into the device. If the BAC rises above the pre-set limit, this will be recorded, a warning issued and emergency lights and sounds will ensue until the car is turned off. Ignition interlocks were designed to prevent drivers with an elevated BAC from operating a vehicle. The devices have been shown to interrupt drinking-driving behaviour — but not, in the long term, to change it. Ideally, ignition interlock programs should be used in conjunction with treatment programs. Otherwise, a high proportion of the users continue to drink and drive after the device has been removed. Six Canadian provinces and 43 American states have legislation that permits ignition interlock devices. Some programs fall under the administrative authority of licensing agencies, while others are under the authority of the courts. Some are mandatory, while others are discretionary. Duration, eligibility, and requirements for reporting and monitoring all vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The administrative-mandatory model is the most widespread and appears to be the most effective. In this model, offenders must participate in order to have their licence reinstated. In Ontario, for example, after serving provincial sanctions, those eligible to have their licence reinstated must have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle for at least one year. After the required period, the driver must apply to the Ministry of Transportation to have the licence condition removed. Participation in voluntary ignition interlock programs tends to be low. According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF), less than 10 per cent of impaired driving offenders volunteer to participate if the program is not mandatory. One reason may be the cost, which is about $100 a month. Participants must pay for installation and maintenance of the ignition interlock device in addition to their higher insurance rates, fines, licence reinstatement and rehabilitation fees. To increase participation in voluntary programs, the ignition interlock needs to be positioned as a beneficial alternative. In the mind of the drinking driver, it should be seen as an incentive rather than a punishment. One way to improve acceptance may be to reduce the length of licence suspension for offenders who install the device. It is estimated that up to 75 per cent of those convicted of impaired driving disregard their licence suspension. These individuals continue to take the wheel (often impaired) after their licence has been suspended. Some choose not to apply for reinstatement, either because they do not plan to drive all — or because they find driving without a licence is easy and think they will never be caught. Lengthy suspensions have been found to increase the risk of the latter. An offender under the control of an interlock program is less dangerous than one who is under suspension and drives anyway. Safety experts recommend more flexibility in sentencing, and the use of interlock programs as an incentive to keep offenders within the legal licensing system. In Quebec, a driver whose licence has been suspended may apply for a restricted licence before the end of the suspension period, provided they meet certain criteria and install an ignition interlock in their vehicle. While ignition interlocks offer significant benefits, they are not a panacea. The factors that help them achieve their potential are known. Their success as a tool to reduce impaired driving will depend on informed implementation, supported by appropriate legislation and treatment programs. © 2006 Canada Safety Council Canada Safety Council C A N A D A ’ S V O I C E A N D R E S O U R C E F O R S A F E T Y