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In The Dark About Ignition Interlock Devices? PA DUI Lawyers Explains

If convicted for a first offence DUI you may have a chance to get an ignition interlock device. License: Creative Commons image courtesy of Flickr by JSmith Photo

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious problem not only across Pennsylvania, but across the country, as well. Individuals found guilty of DUI face serious consequences that typically include fines/costs, potential jail time, license suspension periods, probation, as well as a criminal record and a potential increase in insurance premiums.  However, many states require that subsequent offenders (those who have more than one DUI) have an “ignition interlock device” installed in their personal vehicle as part of their sentence and at their own expense. Many are unclear what this actually entails, so experienced PA DUI lawyers weigh in to explain the details.

What is an ignition interlock device?

An ignition interlock device is a small unit installed in each of a DUI offender’s vehicles that works much like a breathalyzer test that many are familiar with.  Before being able to turn the ignition of the vehicle, the driver must breathe into the device and it measures the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC).  If the driver’s BAC is over a certain amount, the vehicle will not start. PA DUI lawyers are commonly asked if ignition interlock devices can only be installed on cars and trucks, so it is important to note that, while ever state’s laws are different regarding ignition interlock devices, many times they can be installed on motorcycles and scooters, as well.

How does it work?

While the legal limit for driving under the influence is .08% BAC across the country, the BAC limits at which the device will allow you to drive vary from state to state, but are commonly .02% to .04%.  So long as the driver’s BAC is below the pre-set limit, the car will start, however, the device requires retesting at set intervals when driving to prevent the driver from simply having someone else start their car initially or having a drink along the way.  Alcohol ignition interlocks are required to meet standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  These standards ensure that the devices are reliable.

Is it effective?

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), studies have shown that interlock devices decrease recidivism by about two-thirds while installed on the vehicle. When removed, these rates tend to go back to normal. This might not be the case if interlock device programs were coupled with treatment and DUI offenders were not allowed to have the device removed until they demonstrated a period of compliance. The possibility of reoffending is much greater if tests are failed during the interlock period. Unfortunately in most states, offenders still automatically get the device removed at the end of the specified period, even if they failed a test the day before.  Additionally, since the ordered individual is financially responsible for ignition interlock devices (about $70-150 to install and about $60-80 per month for monitoring and calibration), many individuals take this responsibility seriously and comply with their sentence.


While some believe that the purpose of ignition interlock devices is relatively simple to circumvent, this is only true in a sense that an ordered individual would have to be driving a car without one installed.  Similar to the notion that whether or not an individual has a driver’s license, if he or she is determined to drive, he or she will find a way to do so.  That being said, if an individual is ordered to have an ignition interlock system installed, the system itself is quite foolproof.  Any experienced PA DUI lawyer will explain that It is almost impossible to get around the ignition interlock device. The device is designed to not let you start your car if you try to use a mechanical device instead of blowing into interlock system or if you try to tamper with the interlock device in any way, as there are also tamper-proof seals on interlock devices.

Alex Magid

Alex Magid

Alex Magid, Esquire is a Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer at The Martin Law Firm, P.C., located in Blue Bell, PA. Attorney Magid provides legal representation in the areas of DUI and criminal defense as well as wills, trusts, and estates. Alex is a graduate of Penn State University, where he earned his degree in Crime, Law & Justice. To read more of Attorney Magid's work, please visit www.jbmartinlaw.com/blog.

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