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A study published this week by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety looks at the long-term impact of first-time DUI offender laws in the state of Washington, which as of 2004 mandated a year of interlock for all first-time offenders.

The results are impressive, and are consistent with a trend in first-time interlock research that shows the potential for the technology to substantially change behavior for first-time DUI offenders. Overall, Washington saw a 12% reduction in the rate of recidivism for first-timers who installed the interlock for the required year versus those who were ordered to, but did not. Overall 34% of those sentenced to interlock installed the system during the time of the study.

Interlocks and recidivism: the history

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a number of studies evaluating the long-term impact of interlock use on recidivism showed substantial reductions in repeat alcohol-related traffic violations while interlocks were installed, but virtually no impact long-term on recidivism. Those who had interlock were equally as likely to reoffend in the years post monitoring as those who never had it.

So why the shift? It may come down to the behavioral tendencies of the offenders being evaluated. Ten and 15 years ago, the offenders sentenced to interlock were predominantly repeat/hard core drunk drivers. And according to The Century Council, 98% of hard core drunk drivers test positive for alcohol dependence issues. In other words, the addiction is driving the repeat illegal behavior.

Today, the focus is on the first-time DUI offender. According to the IIHS study, 75% of the DUI offenses during the time of the study were first-timers.

Bottom line: The deterrent and behavior modification effect of the interlock can be powerful for those who aren’t necessarily alcohol dependent, but lack the knowledge and judgment of how much they can drink before hitting the legal limit for driving.

What about the Hardcore Drunk Drivers?

The IIHS report includes reference to a 1999 study out of Maryland on interlock recidivism, reported to be one of the only randomized control studies. The study focused exclusively on offenders with multiple alcohol-related traffic offenses. Qualifying offenders were assigned to an interlock program for 1 year, while participants in a control group were eligible for the usual license reinstatement coupled with the conventional treatment program. During the 1 year, the interlock group saw a 64% reduction in repeat alcohol-related traffic violations compared to the treatment control group. But during year two, there was a substantial 36% reduction in the re-arrest rate for the group in treatment—not the interlock group.

What do you think? Is there a place for interlocks with Hardcore Drunk Drivers? Should first-time DUI offenders also get treatment?

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up: A blog about drunk driving, alcohol addiction, and criminal justice, is anything but a corporate blog. Sobering Up is an opportunity for anyone interested or involved in the issues of drunk driving, alcohol-fueled crime, alcohol dependence and addiction, and the justice system to participate in the conversation.


  1. One of the problems we face is the “good old boy” syndrome where law enforcement and the judicial system are not taking seriously DWI offenders. There was a case in Houston where an attorney had 11 DWI’s and still had his license. Realizing that the prisons cannot hold everyone, as judges we should consider the danger that DWI’s put my family and yours in harms way. Our real goal, and mine as a judge is to get the offenders to change their attitude about their actions. If interlocks, or scram monitors doesn’t help, by using these as condition of bond and strict enforcement of those conditions with get their attention. Whatever happens we need to take DWI’s more serious.

  2. Not only should we take DUIs more seriously, but we also need to take DUI intervention services more seriously as in requiring DUI service providers to show that their programs reduce DUI recidivism. With respect to the BAID, what I am seeing is a suppression effect in that recidivism is reduced while the device is in use, but then there is no carry over effect after the device is removed. As a DUI counselor, I see a benefit in the BAID if it is combined with effective treatment. The BAID offers practice in mindfullness: thinking carefully about one’s alcohol status each and every time you go near your vehicle (or other hazardous activity). For non-dependent drinkers, who represent the majority of drinkers and DUI’s and drunk driver fatalities, the BAID combined with training in a comprehensive alcohol risk management program is likely to combine the best effects of the BAID with the best effects of good treatment. I take advantage of the presence of the BAID in treatment, plus I teach my students how many BAC points they get per standard drink, what a standard drink is, to wait to engage in hazardous activities until their BAC is estimated to be at zero, how to set responsible drink limits for hazardous and non hazardous situations and how to track drinks during the drinking process. In Illinois, we are not required to show that our treatment programs reduce recidivism, however I have tracked the recidivism of our program for about 20 years with a five year time span being our time frame for inquiry. Our recidivism rate is about 8% compared to the states 18% (for all providers in the state). I am curious to see what happens when we have five years of data with the BAID as part of the intervention scenario. I think when combined with effective treatment and integrated with treatment, the BAID may be very effective in reducing recidivism.

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