Alcohol interlocks have been commercially available for more than 30 years. The first alcohol interlock devices were developed in the 1960s as a tool to prevent drunk driving. These first devices were performance-based interlock systems, which required the driver to perform a perceptual or motor task that was designed to detect impairment prior to driving. While these devices were sensitive to individual variations in performance and impairment, they were incapable of discriminating between drivers with low to moderate BAC levels.
Breath alcohol measurement devices
In the 1970s, new devices that were based on breath alcohol measurement were developed and proved to be considerably more reliable than the earlier performance-based devices in accurately discriminating between drivers above and below a specified BrAC threshold limit. These devices are designed to incapacitate drunk driving offenders by preventing them from starting a vehicle when their BrAC is in excess of a pre-set limit. Of importance, the alcohol interlock allows offenders to drive legitimately within the driver licensing system, while at the same time, providing the public with the assurance that these offenders will not be able to drive drunk. It can also serve as a nexus between criminal justice sanctions and substance abuse treatment by assisting offenders in recognizing their alcohol dependence while simultaneously controlling their behavior. For this reason, ignition interlocks held promise as a means of preventing offenders convicted of a DWI offense from repeating such
behavior and placing the public at risk.
Limitations of early devices
However, initial alcohol interlock breath testing devices, developed in the 1970s and 1980s, suffered from a variety of technological challenges which allowed offenders to circumvent the device in order to start the vehicle with relative ease - e.g., drivers could get someone else to provide the breath sample or the wiring of the device could be tampered with. Such challenges perpetuated the belief that devices could be easily circumvented, and as a consequence, alcohol interlocks were met with hesitance on the part of criminal justice and licensing practitioners. Further compounding this problem, guidance for jurisdictions regarding the strategies to apply these devices to offenders (i.e., implementation) was limited. As a result, the ways in which alcohol interlocks were applied to offenders were diverse and varied across jurisdictions.
Recent technological advances
Within the past decade, advances in alcohol interlock technology have been substantial and impressive. Not only are modern devices technologically superior to their predecessors, they possess a variety of anti-circumvention features that greatly reduce the likelihood of tampering. The result is a viable, practical, and reliable device which prevents drivers with BrAC readings that exceed specified threshold values from operating an interlock-equipped vehicle.
More importantly, there is currently a substantial body of research that clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of these devices as a sanctioning tool that reduces impaired driving, particularly among repeat offenders (Beck et al. 1999; Coben and Larkin, 1999; Marine et al. 2000; Morse and Elliot, 1992; Tippetts and Voas, 1997; Voas et al. 1999; Raub et al. 2003; Bjerre and Torsson 2008; Marques et al. 2010; Rauch et al. 2011; Elder et al. 2011) as well as first offenders (EMT Group 1990; Morse and Elliot 1992; Tippets and Voas 1998; Voas et al. 1999; Voas et al. 2005; Marques et al. 2010; McCartt et al. 2012). While installed, alcohol interlocks have been found to reduce DWI recidivism rates by 35-90% (Tippetts and Voas 1997; Coben and Larken 1999; Vezina 2002; Voas and Marques 2003) with an average reduction of 64% (Willis et al. 2005).
Low usage rates
Surprisingly, despite the increased sophistication of alcohol interlocks and the body of impressive research, there has been limited growth in the application of alcohol interlocks to impaired driving offenders since the 1990s. Today, there are 1.4 million impaired driving offenders that are arrested annually in the U.S. While not all arrested impaired drivers are convicted, interlock installation rates only account for approximately 20% of these offenders. In 2011, it was estimated that 279,000 offenders had an interlock installed (Roth 2012).
This situation has occurred due to a "disconnect" between research and practice. Information about technological advances and research findings about the effectiveness of alcohol interlock devices have not been consistently translated or made available to a criminal justice audience or to treatment and licensing professionals.
Challenges in the justice system
Indeed, a comprehensive review of the DWI system, completed in 2003 under funding from Anheuser-Busch Companies, revealed that many of the problems in the system were cross-cutting and impacted the enforcement, prosecution, sanctioning, and supervision of offenders (Robertson and Simpson 2002a, 2002b, 2003a; Simpson and Robertson 2001). More importantly, a key recommendation from this research, based on the experiences of more than 5,000 police officers, prosecutors, judges, and probation officers, demonstrated that practitioners supported the enhanced use of technologies (including alcohol interlocks) at all phases of the system to improve its efficiency and effectiveness and address recognized problems such as the monitoring of offenders.
Need for education and training
On a practical level, these findings illustrated that a major impediment to accomplishing enhanced use of technology was the lack of educational and training opportunities available to practitioners regarding how to implement and effectively apply these technologies. Moreover, educational opportunities for professionals have been inconsistent, and in some jurisdictions, non-existent. There are notable gaps in understanding regarding the delivery and application of devices, measures of effectiveness, and the importance of sharing information across agencies. This has resulted in conflicting or contradictory perspectives and misperceptions about the alcohol interlock device, as well as other technologies.
Follow-up work to this comprehensive DWI system review was undertaken by a coalition of 14 criminal justice organizations, also funded by Anheuser-Busch Companies. The Working Group on DWI System Improvements clearly identified the challenges that practitioners face in applying alcohol interlocks to impaired driving offenders (see the report from the Working Group entitled "A Criminal Justice Perspective on Ignition Interlocks" from the 3rd Meeting of the Working Group available at: www.dwiwg.tirf.ca/group/index.php).
To overcome this disconnect between research and practice, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) has developed an educational curriculum for practitioners (including law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, probation officials, treatment practitioners, and licensing professionals) on alcohol interlocks. This curriculum was created with input and cooperation from researchers and practicing professionals representing all sectors of the system. It is designed to allow practitioners to draw upon a reliable and comprehensive source of information that can be tailored to meet their individual needs and to provide educational resources to a broad spectrum of agencies to inform decision-making.
TIRF organized and hosted a workshop at the Kingsmill Resort & Spa in Kingsmill, VA in March, 2007. The purpose of the workshop was to develop the content, structure, and delivery strategy for a National Curriculum on Alcohol Interlocks targeted towards law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, probation officials, treatment professionals, and licensing agencies.
This one-day event brought together representatives from a broad range of criminal justice, treatment, and driver licensing organizations who possessed considerable experience with impaired driving offenders, new technologies, and educational development. The comments, suggestions, and feedback provided by participants regarding their concerns and questions about alcohol interlocks were integral to the development of the curriculum. Their expertise and insights allowed TIRF to ensure the accuracy, relevance, and credibility of the material to be included in the curriculum; to identify an appropriate format that best suits the needs of the diversity of audiences; and to ensure that the curriculum reaches a broad cross-section of professionals who can benefit from this information.
Representatives from the following organizations participated in the workshop:
Purpose of Curriculum
The curriculum is a tool designed to dispel existing myths and misconceptions and serve as a comprehensive source of information about alcohol interlocks. It summarizes the research, provides an overview of modern devices and features, shares insight into the effective implementation of alcohol interlocks within licensing and court agencies, and can inform decision-making such that practitioners are able to effectively and efficiently apply these devices to appropriate offenders. The curriculum contains a variety of instructor materials, handouts, presentations, educational videos, research, and other references.This curriculum on alcohol interlocks has been designed as a comprehensive, flexible tool for criminal justice, treatment, and licensing professionals to allow them to educate their colleagues, staff, and membership with materials and resources tailored to meet their needs, and that can be delivered at their convenience.