NEW ULM - In the midst of budget crises, a program designed to enhance public safety by giving eligible driving while impaired (DWI) offenders the opportunity to have ignition interlock devices in their vehicles appears to be a win-win situation.
The Minnesota Ignition Interlock Program allows drivers arrested for DWI that have a cancelled or revoked driver's license the chance to regain their driving privileges sooner than they could in the past plus save them a $680 driver's license reinstatement fee.
The size of a cell phone, ignition interlock prevents a vehicle from starting if it detects a certain alcohol-concentration after the driver blows into a tube.
The device requires drivers to provide breath samples when the vehicle is moving to help prevent others from blowing into it.
Dave Munson, DWI Intensive Probation Agent for Brown and Watonwan Counties, said for many people, the program has had good success.
"Our clients give us very positive feedback because they're driving again sooner, which helps them find and maintain employment and have more freedom instead of a long wait and bigger expense to get their driver's license back," Munson said.
He added that Smart Start, which costs about $100 to install and $139 a month to maintain with tax and insurance, includes an infrared camera recording the driver's seat to prevent others from blowing into the device.
Smart Start ignition has a device that records violations including tampering, that must be downloaded monthly at Chuck Spaeth Ford.
The dealership installs and maintains the devices for Brown County.
"It knows if it's being messed with. Compressed air can't be used for human breath," Munson added.
He said 47 states have enacted ignition interlock legislation and before long, all states will have it.
Munson said all ignition interlock devices have a pre-set .02 blood alcohol concentration level that locks out users that reach the figure.
Then devices begin a countdown in which users must take devices to Spaeth Ford to be downloaded and reset after a $50 lock-out fee is paid.
Munson said as of July 1, 2011, a new law will affect first-time and repeat DWI offenders.
First-time offenders with alcohol concentrations below .16 who used to only qualify for a restricted license, apply for a work permit and drive only to work, to attend AA meetings and other treatment programs.
The length of time drivers must participate in the interlock program depends on the number of prior offenses and the length of the license revocation or cancellation period.
Interlock program rule violations extend the amount of time drivers remain in it.
Brown County District Court Judge John Rodenberg said interlock program makes sense.
"Having convicted drunk drivers ensuring they don't use alcohol behind the wheel is good for probation since it reduced the time people are without licenses and may keep people from losing a job," he added.
Rodenberg said the program is especially important in rural areas where there is no mass transportation.
For more information, visit www.minnesotaignitioninterlock.org.
Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.