by Phillip B. Price, Sr.
Alabama’s new DUI ignition interlock law went into effect at the beginning of September. However, the regulatory scheme and infrastructure needed for the law to be fully operational and adequately administered is far from complete. While the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences recently put forth its regulations related to the new law, the Alabama Department of Public Safety appears less prepared. At present there are only a half dozen interlock installation facilities in Alabama and none north of Birmingham, leaving the state woefully underserved. Currently, only three ignition interlock devices by only two manufacturers have been approved.
Under the Alabama interlock law all second and subsequent DUI offenders (within a five year window) will be required to have ignition interlocks installed on their vehicles. Even some first offenders are subject to interlock (those who blow .15 or higher, refuse a chemical test, have a minor under 14 years old with them, or injure another person). The minimum period of interlock installation is two years, for qualifying first offenders and all second offenders. Third offenders are subject to a minimum three year interlock period. Fourth and subsequent offenders are subject to a minimum five year interlock period. There is also a provision in the law which state that requires the minimum ignition interlock time is doubled if the offender’s BAC was .15 or higher. The interlock period will not begin to run until after the person convicted has completed any license suspension or revocation period imposed as part of their sentence.
All persons subject to ignition interlock must obtain a “scarlet letter” driver license from the Alabama Department of Public Safety (DPS) for which DPS may charge a $150.00 fee. Before the person may obtain such a license, he or she must present proof of interlock installation to the Department of Public Safety. This means that the convicted person will have to arrange to have his vehicle driven or towed by another person to the interlock installer’s place of business, which may be several counties away.
Alabama’s ignition interlock law requires that interlock devices be calibrated so that the motor vehicle will not start if the blood alcohol level of the operator reaches a BAC level of .02. The person must also have the interlock device serviced at an approved service center every 30 days. The service center will download and store the data collected by the ignition interlock device and must report any violations to “the appropriate authorities.” It is not entirely clear who the appropriate authorities are. Reportable violations include: four or more blows at .02 or more within the 30 day reporting period; tampering, circumventing or bypassing the device or attempting to do so; and failure to comply with the 30 day servicing requirement.
During each service visit the service technician is required to verify the calibration of the device by using a known reference sample. DFS’s rules expressly require that the device be verified at .02 grams of ethanol per 210L. A device is deemed to have passed the calibration check if the results displayed by the device are within +/- .01 g/210L of the .02 reference sample. DFS’s rules also mandate that a dry gas reference be used rather than a wet bath reference.
Under the interlock law, DFS was not funded for overseeing the interlock program. Therefore, it is not going to run it. However, DFS is charged with making the rules which govern the installation of ignition interlocks in Alabama. It will be private businesses that actually install, calibrate, check calibration, monitor and provide other service to the ignition interlock devices. DFS is also charged with maintaining a list of approved ignition interlock devices. The current version of those rules and the approved list of devices can be found on DFS’s website.
There are only three devices currently on the approved list:
- Draeger Interlock XT
- Smart Start SSI 20/20
- Smart Start SSI 20/30
It appears the reason there are only three devices on the approved list is because the requirement that dry gas be used to check calibration, as wet bath calibration checks are more common in the industry. I have heard there are no other devices that have been submitted to DFS for review at the present time.
Currently, there are only a handful of interlock installation facilities in Alabama. Smart Start currently only has six locations in Alabama, Birmingham, Dothan, Montgomery, Odenville, Sylacauga, and Tuscaloosa. However, I have heard a few more Smart Start locations will be open before too long. Draeger has yet to open any locations in Alabama, but I hear it soon will.
The implementation of Alabama’s ignition interlock law is still in its infancy, and much remains to be seen regarding its “roll out” and enforcement.