New DUI law and device

New DUI law and device give a choice to people pulled over for their first DUI case: Prove sobriety every time they drive or get a suspended license Law expands the use of BAIID, or Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device

By Kristen Schorsch | Tribune reporter
July 14, 2009

About 3,600 Illinoisans accused for the first time of drunken driving are seeking to take advantage of a new law that allows them to get behind the wheel again as long as they install a device in their cars that measures their sobriety.

“It could go better, but it’s going well,” said Susan McKeigue, Illinois Mothers Against Drunk Driving executive director.

MADD and state lawmakers lobbied hard for the law that took effect Jan. 1 and requires first-time drunken-driving defendants who want to drive while their licenses typically would be suspended to install a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device, or BAIID.

About 50,000 people a year are arrested statewide for drunken driving, and about 40,000 of those arrests of are first-time offenders, said Henry Haupt, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

The BAIID device looks like a cell phone and is wired into the ignition. Drivers must blow into a plastic tube to start the ignition every time they get behind the wheel and during their ride to make sure a sober person didn’t help start the car.

If a driver blows a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 or higher, the car doesn’t start.

The devices stay in place for as long as the offender’s license would be suspended — six months for people who submit to a Breathalyzer and fail, and 12 months for those who refuse the test. Once a first-timer is convicted, the device is mandatory. A judge determines for how long. Repeat offenders have had to use the device for years.

Harold Wallin, a Chicago attorney who represents about 175 clients a year accused of drunken driving, said he thinks the new law helps first-time defendants resume some sort of normal life by letting them drive. But only about half of Wallin’s clients, most of whom are first-timers, get the device, he said. That means they opt to not drive for up to a year.

The device is “expensive and it’s embarrassing for people,” Wallin said. “It’s humiliating to have that device in their car.”

The device costs $100 to install and $110 a month to rent and for the state to monitor.