Change in DUI law has drivers’ attention

Corina Curry

It’s still too soon to tell whether the state’s new Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device law will reduce the number of violations for driving under the influence, but it is having a noticeable effect on drivers being ticketed.

Winnebago County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Scott Meyers says first-time offenders, the targets of the law, are markedly more upset these days about getting a DUI.

“Everyone is upset when they get their first DUI. But it’s clear that people are a lot more upset these days,” Meyers said. “They realize what it means and that they’re going to have to jump through a lot more hoops. The state’s done an excellent job educating the public on this. They can’t say they didn’t know that this would happen to them if they drink and drive.”

The new law, which went into effect Jan. 1, is estimated to affect about 30,000 Illinoisans this year, requiring them to have breath-test devices attached to their cars if they want to get behind the wheel after their first DUI arrest.

The device, which is attached to the ignition of the vehicles, requires offenders to submit to a breath test every time they want to start the vehicle, and at periodic intervals after the vehicle has been started. The device flashes the vehicle’s lights and honks the horn if the offender tries to drive after failing a breath test, making the driver highly visible and audible to police and other motorists, who can call the police to report the violation.

The legal BAC limit in Illinois is 0.08. The device is set to not allow ignition at 0.025.

Christopher DeRango, a Rockford lawyer who specializes in DUI offenses, said he has a couple of dozen clients in line to get some of the state’s first ignition-lock devices placed in cars because of the new law.

DeRango said some of the issues he already sees with the new law is the cost — which he estimates between $800 and $1,500 depending on the length of the driver’s suspension — and families with one car and multiple drivers.

“We still don’t know how that’s going to be dealt with,” DeRango said. “They’re not sure what they’re going to do, but that’s one that doesn’t seem like it was thought through very well. What if you have one car and two people use it? You certainly don’t want anyone getting in trouble for blowing for the person, but what if that other person is the person driving the car?”

He’s also concerned whether the state has enough equipment installers lined up to put in the devices in a timely fashion.

“All of this for a program focusing on the wrong people,” DeRango said. “In my 15 years in DUI, I’ve had one client who reviolated in the suspension period in a way that this equipment would have prevented it. In my estimation, it’s half of 1 percent or at most 2 percent of these first-time offenders who will violate again while on suspension. It sounds great, like we’re getting tough on DIU offenses, but I’m not sure if we’re really accomplishing anything.”

Rockford police have issued 126 driving violations for driving under the influence since Jan. 1. Winnebago County officers have had 53, and state troopers in District 16, Pecatonica, have made 21 DUI arrests in the past two months.

Rockford, Winnebago County and District 16 — the area’s three major road-patrolling agencies — have yet to catch a driver with the device in violation of the new law.

The device has been used previously for repeat offenders, but no one affected by the new law will have the device installed until mid-March, said Elizabeth Earleywine, traffic safety resource prosecutor for the Illinois Department of Transportation. That’s because it takes the secretary of state’s office 45 days from the date of the arrest to process the suspension and set the dates.

Then, the first month of the suspension is “hard time,” she said, and the device is unavailable.

“Under the old system, you could get a judicial driving permit that would let you go to work or school only,” she said. “With this device you can go anywhere you want, you just have to have this device on your car. It’s going to depend on your perspective if it’s better or not.”

Officials estimate that 80 percent of the state’s annual 50,000 DUI offenders are first-time offenders. The state hopes to know more about how the program is working in April when the first participation numbers will be available.

“There certainly are going to be some deterrence factors down the road with this law,” Rockford Lt. Dane Person said. “The device law is definitely more cumbersome for drivers to deal with than the old judicial driving permit. You could violate your judicial driving permit. As long as you didn’t get caught, you were fine.

“This law is going to require a lifestyle change for people. You can’t drink. It’s not just you can’t drink in excess of the blood-alcohol content limit for the state. It’s set lower than that so you really can’t reoffend without getting caught.”

Corina Curry can be reached atccurry@rrstar.com or (815) 987-1389.

What to expect

First offense: Court supervision of a year and fines and costs of about $1,250, attendance at a Victim Impact Panel presentation, and treatment or education.

Second offense: A conviction, up to five days in jail or 240 hours of public service, fines and costs of about $1,250, and treatment or education.

Third offense: A felony conviction, mandatory five days in jail or 240 hours of public service, and up to one to three years in prison, fines and costs of about $1,250.