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Beginning Tuesday, first-time offenders of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Idaho will be required by law to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicles.

Previously, only people who got a DUI on more than one occasion were required to use the device. It requires a driver to blow into a mouthpiece before starting their vehicle; the mechanism will only unlock the ignition if the driver is deemed sober.

The new law requires DUI offenders to install the device in their vehicle, at their expense, for a year, after their license suspension period. When Idaho passed the legislation, it became one of 29 states in the country that require the installation of an interlock device as a result of any DUI offenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The legislation was the end goal of a bill sponsored by state Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and state Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise. That bill passed in March with broad support: 55-14-1 in the House, and 21-12-2 in the Senate. The legislators worked with AAA Idaho, an organization that researches drunk driving and deterrence and supported the law change.

“People drive under the influence an average of 80 times before being arrested for their first offense,” said Matthew Conde, public affairs director for AAA Idaho.

In addition to that, Conde said, three-fourths of people who have their license suspended continue to drive anyway, so simply suspending a license is not a deterrent, he said.

The installation of an ignition interlock device allows a person to remain a functioning member of society, Conde said, while also ensuring their sobriety on the road.

“Obviously there’s a human element of compassion for the drunk driver, but we need to balance that against the public interest and the human cost some of (the victims of drunk driving) are carrying,” Conde said.

The new law requires those convicted of a DUI to pay for the device themselves. While a judge does have the option of exempting an offender from that cost, “financial hardship standing alone is not a mitigating circumstance,” according to the bill’s statement of purpose.

Burgoyne said Idaho has multiple manufacturers of ignition interlocking devices, helping to make them more affordable.

“The cost has become much more reasonable than it used to be,” Burgoyne said. “We didn’t think the issue of financial hardship was at least a current issue.”

Offenders convicted of a DUI are required to pay a $15 fee in the state of Idaho on top of their other court costs. Those fees make up a county fund to help offset the cost of interlocking devices for the state’s most indigent offenders.

Conde estimated a device might cost about $50 to install, and, overall, about $2 or $3 a day to maintain after that — and it could actually save some people money, he said, citing research indicating many DUI offenders spend $12 to $13 a day on alcohol.

The law is set to take effect Tuesday, unlike many other pieces of legislation, which commonly list July 1 as a start date. That’s because the bill passed in March, when the Idaho Transportation Department was eyeing a massive software update scheduled for the summer. Because license revocation and suspension is also the administrative responsibility of the Idaho Transportation Department, it would make sense of the department to make the necessary new adjustments part of the new software system.

Burgoyne sees the law as less of a punitive measure and more of a practical step for the good of both offenders and other drivers.

“It’s really great in terms of the drivers themselves — who wants to get down the road to their second DUI offense?” Burgoyne said. “And it’s really great for public safety.”

Tommy Simmons is the Ada County public safety reporter for the Idaho Press. Follow him on Twitter @tsimmonsipt

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