SB-1046 New DUI Interlock Law

Upcoming CA Bill SB-1046

American roadways are hazardous. Each year, upwards of 40,000 people lose their lives in fatal vehicle accidents. Over 10,000 of those fatalities are a direct result of impaired driving. This many lives lost due to preventable DUI tragedies has been a problem for decades. Politicians across the country have tried many approaches to solving this crisis. No approach has been more successful than ignition interlock devices (IIDs).

California’s State Senate has done extensive research on solutions and concluded that ignition interlock devices are the most effective tool in combating DWI. Though other enforcement options are still necessary in some cases, statistics prove that IIDs reduce repeat DWIs by 50- to 90 percent, far better than license suspensions, fines, and imprisonment combined.

To do its utmost to improve safety of California roadways, the California Senate has passed Senate Bill 1046. This bill requires IIDs for all DWI offenses. The logic of SB-1046 is simple. Since IIDs are the most effective weapon in preventing repeat DWIs, they should be required in every case. SB-1046 will save thousands of lives. That’s something every politician can get behind, and in the case of SB-1046, they did. The Senate unanimously passed the bill, which will take effect on January 1st, 2019.

California’s DUI Problem

California roadways have a drinking problem. The state always ranks first in DWI arrests and accidents. Though California’s huge population naturally plays a role, its rate of DWI arrests and accidents per capita is a stain on the state’s reputation. The state routinely logs over 200,000 DWI arrests per year. No other state routinely reaches even close to 100,000, with many logging less than 10,000. The state also experiences the most DWI-related fatalities, routinely recording over 1,000 per year. Each year, California routinely records over 10 percent of nationwide DWI-related deaths.

The traffic congestion and aggressive driving in California cities creates enormous danger for motorists before alcohol is added to the mix. When drunk drivers hit the roadways, it’s inevitable that people will get hurt. SB 1046 ensures that people with DWI convictions can no longer access California roadways while intoxicated.

The Law Before Senate Bill 1046

Before the passage of this bill, IIDs were an option. Under the current process, when a police officer makes a DWI arrest, the arrest subject’s license is confiscated. The subject receives a temporary license that is good for 30 days. During that time period, he or she can continue to drive without restriction. 

California DUI law requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to conduct an administrative review of each DUI arrest within 10 days. If the DMV is satisfied that the arrest was valid, it suspends the offender’s license. The offender can appeal the suspension and request a hearing. 

First-time offenders receive a 4-month suspension. Second-time offenders (within 10 years) receive a 1-year suspension. Offenders under the age of 21 automatically receive a 1-year suspension, even if their BAC was below the legal limit. People who refuse to take a chemical test automatically receive a 1-year license suspension. Second and third refusals within 10 years results in 2- and 3-year suspensions.

Offenders may apply for a restricted drivers license, which allows them to drive back and forth to work. These penalties are considered administrative, which means they are not criminal penalties and work separately from any criminal conviction. The suspensions are taken against the license rather than the person. 

Court Penalties

In the separate criminal cases brought against offenders, California DUI law provides for strict penalties. Cases where no injuries are involved have the lowest penalties. First- and second offenses are often considered misdemeanors. First-time misdemeanor offenders face up to 6 months in jail while second-time offenders face up to one year, plus a $1,000 fine. Habitual offenders face state prison time. 

California courts consider DUIs as felonies when they involve serious injuries or fatalities. In these cases, offenders can face substantial prison time. Offenders are also subject to being ordered to attend substance abuse treatment. If the offender owns a vehicle, the court can order the vehicle impounded. The court can also declare the vehicle a “nuisance” and order it forfeited and sold.

The criminal courts have the option of ordering an IID for periods of one to three years. Though IIDs are proven to be more effective at preventing repeat offenses than any other method, they are often not required by the courts. Senate Bill 1046 changes that.

Why License Suspensions Don’t Work

License suspensions are ineffective because they provide no method of deterring repeat offenses. DUI offenders with suspended licenses can simply choose to ignore their suspensions and keep driving. In car-dependent California, offenders often need to drive. Unfortunately, when their licenses are suspended, they then take to California roadways uninsured. It then only takes one incident of drinking and driving for a tragedy to occur. Though repeat offenders may face serious consequences, including prison time, that often comes too late for victims of DWI-related accidents.

How Senate Bill 1046 works

Under Senate Bill 1046, IIDs would be required for all DUI offenders, regardless of whether they are first-time offenders or repeat offenders. It has been shown that license suspensions by themselves don’t keep California roadways safe. People that need to drive will drive, regardless of their driver’s license status. Stopping DUI repeat offenses is not about keeping offenders off the road completely or impounding their vehicles. It’s about keeping them off the road while intoxicated.

How IIDs work

When a person receives a court order requiring the installation of an IID, their license remains suspended until they have the IID installed. This provides a strong incentive for people to comply with IID orders. Essentially, the law says install the IID or don’t drive.

IIDs are easy and inexpensive to install. The offender bears the cost of installation, which ranges from $75 to $200. In addition, the offender must pay a monthly fee. Although this requires some expense on the part of the offender, it is still better than not being able to drive legally and risking jail if you do. For that reason, virtually all offenders comply with IID orders.

Some people express concern that offenders can get around the IID by having someone else blow into it. To defeat this possibility, IIDs are designed to require the driver to blow into the IID at random intervals during the drive. This ensures that the person operating the vehicle is unimpaired.

In addition to preventing the vehicle from starting when a driver is impaired, IIDs report violations to the probation officer or judge who oversees the case against the offender. This allows the court to monitor if an offender is attempting to get behind the wheel while drinking. Offenders who try to circumvent the IIDs can face serious consequences, such as jail time.

The new law allows offenders to have the IID installed before their license is suspended, which allows them to avoid the suspension and negates the need to apply for a restricted drivers license in order to get to work or take other necessary trips. Judges would also have the option of requiring an offender to serve a 30-day hard suspension and 1-year restricted license prior to becoming eligible for an IID. This leaves judges free to take the circumstances of the arrest and the offender’s record into account while deciding about IID installation versus other measures.

California’s high number of DWI arrests and accidents have remained stubbornly high for decades. License suspensions, fines, and incarceration, though necessary in some cases, have done little to reverse the trend. IIDs make it impossible for offenders to drive drunk. Because of this, IIDs have made a large dent in repeat offenses for those required to have them. By making IIDs mandatory for all offenders, the California Senate takes a serious bite out of California DWI.