Minn. Counties Test Blow-in-Tube Devises for Drunken Driver Offenders

January 11, 2008

Repeat drunken drivers in two Minnesota counties can get back behind the wheel sooner if they pay to have blow-in-the-tube devices installed in their vehicles.

So far, results in the two pilot programs are mixed.

County officials say there’s no question the ignition interlock devices keep repeat offenders from driving while impaired. But some offenders are steering clear because they can’t afford the installation or monthly fees on top of the fines, higher car insurance premiums and other costs associated with DWIs.

Minnesota is one of the last states to try out the devices, which are allowed in most states and mandatory for repeat DWI offenders in 20. Lawmakers authorized the pilot programs in Hennepin and Beltrami counties through mid-2009, and may decide to expand the program statewide.

More than 500,000 Minnesota residents have DWI arrests on their record.

In Hennepin County, 18 DWI offenders have gotten the devices installed in their vehicles. The county’s program supervisor, Emil Carlson-Clark, expects more to follow. Hennepin County’s DWI court requires those who get the device to use it for at least a year.

“The clients get a benefit of getting their license back early, and then the public gets the benefit of them not being able to drink and drive,” Carlson-Clark said.

But Beltrami County officials have had no luck getting drunken drivers there to participate.

“When we’ve been offering this to people, they’re weighing this out, how much this is going to cost them,” said Sheila Fontaine, the county’s program supervisor. “Along with the reinstatement fee, which is another $680, they’re indicating that this is just more than they can financially afford.”

Installing the device costs $90, and the monthly fee is $150.

In Hennepin County, Molly _ a two-time drunken driver who wouldn’t give her last name _ has had the device on her car for about a month. It sits beneath the console.

To start the vehicle, she must blow into the tube and hum.

To keep the car running, she must blow into the tube roughly every 15 minutes as she drives.

By agreeing to use the device, she shaved three months off the wait for a provisional license allowing her drive to work, treatment and AA meetings.

“It’s a constant reminder that you made a bad choice and it’s not OK, and there are consequences that come with that choice,” she said.

Research has shown that habitual drunken drivers fall back to a normal level of re-offending once the devices are removed.

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