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Pennsylvania's Ignition Interlock Law for First Time DUI Offenders

In May 2016, Pennsylvania altered the effect a first time DUI conviction has on a person's driver's license by amending section 3805 of the Motor Vehicle Code and enacting section 1556.  These changes went into effect in August 2017.  Prior to August 2017, a person convicted of a first offense DUI with a blood alcohol content ("BAC") of .10% or higher received a 12-month license suspension. The current law now allows for an individual to avoid the hard license suspension and to operate a vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock.

The ignition interlock requirement has been around for many years, but only applied to second or subsequent DUI convictions and was a requirement after a person served the license suspension.  An ignition interlock is a device installed on a vehicle which determines the driver's breath alcohol content ("BrAC").  The driver blows into the device and if their BrAC is .025% or greater, the vehicle will not start.  The ignition interlock requirement has been expanded to include those convicted of a first offense DUI with a BAC of .10% or higher.  First time offenders must have an ignition interlock installed on all vehicles they own or operate for a period of 12 months prior to being eligible for restoration of their unrestricted license.  While a 12-month license suspension is still imposed as a result of the conviction, the person is immediately eligible for an ignition interlock license which allows the person to avoid the hard suspension. 

There are certain exceptions to the ignition interlock requirement.  First, if an individual owns more than one vehicle and having to install devices on all vehicles would impose an economic hardship, the person can request to have a device installed on only one vehicle.  Also, if a person does not own a vehicle, they can sign a certification stating so and they will not be required to have a device installed.  However, individuals falling into these two categories must still obtain an ignition interlock license for the required period before they can have their unrestricted license restored.  There is also an employment exemption which allows a person to operate an employer's vehicle without an ignition interlock if (1) the person notifies the employer that they are subject to the interlock restriction, and (2) the person is in possession of the notification form containing the employer's notarized signature acknowledging that the employer has been informed.  The person can only operate the vehicle if it is a requirement of his job and is operated within the course and scope of the person's employment.  This exemption does not apply if (1) the person has access to the vehicle for personal use, (2) the person has any ownership interest in the company that owns the vehicle, or (3) if the vehicle is a school bus/school vehicle or is equipped to transport more than 15 people, including the driver.

A person who is found to have refused a chemical test is eligible for an ignition interlock license after serving six months of a 12-month suspension or nine months of an 18 month suspension.  

Some are critical of this law and believe that a person who drives under the influence should have a license suspension as a form of punishment.  People also believe that a license suspension is necessary to protect the public from drunk drivers.  However, many of these people do not realize the extreme hardship that a license suspension often imposes on a person and their family.  

This law is a fair compromise between society's interest in protecting the public and avoiding the unjust hardship of a license suspension for a first time DUI offender.  Society is protected because the person can only operate a vehicle that is equipped with an ignition interlock.  As mentioned above, if the device detects a breath alcohol content of .025% or greater, the vehicle will not start.  The device also requires random samples during operation of the vehicle.  Additionally, the device must be returned every 30-60 days for service appointments, at which time the device is inspected to make sure it was not tampered with and for data download.  The device records data from all times the device is used, including the person's breath alcohol content and the number of failed attempts.  While an ignition interlock does not guarantee that the person will not drive after consuming alcohol by operating another vehicle or having somebody else provide a breath sample, neither does a hard license suspension.

If you or somebody you know is charged with DUI, contact Schimizzi Law for a free initial consultation.

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