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Washington state’s alcohol ignition interlock law: effects on recidivism among first-time DUI offenders

McCartt, Anne T.; Leaf, William A.; Farmer, Charles M.; Eichelberger, Angela H.
Traffic Injury Prevention
February 2013

Objective: To examine the effects of changes to Washington State’s ignition interlock laws: moving issuance of interlock orders from courts to the driver licensing department in July 2003 and extending the interlock order requirement to first-time offenders with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) below 0.15 percent (“first simple driving under the influence [DUI]”) in June 2004.
Method: Trends in conviction types, interlock installation rates, and 2-year cumulative recidivism rates were examined for first-time convictions (simple, high-BAC, test refusal DUI; deferred prosecution; alcohol-related negligent driving) stemming from DUI arrests between January 1999 and June 2006. Regression analyses examined recidivism effects of the law changes and interlock installation rates. To examine general deterrent effects, trends in single-vehicle late-night crashes in Washington were compared with trends in California and Oregon.
Results: After the 2004 law change, the proportion of simple DUIs declined somewhat, though the proportion of negligent driving convictions (no interlock order requirement) continued an upward trend. Interlock installation rates for first simple DUIs were 3 to 6 percent in the year before the law change and one third after. Recidivism declined by an estimated 12 percent (e.g., expected 10.6% without law change vs. 9.3% among offenders arrested between April and June 2006, the last study quarter) among first simple DUI offenders and an estimated 11 percent (expected 10.2% vs. 9.1%) among all first-time offenders. There was an estimated 0.06 percentage point decrease in the recidivism rate for each percentage point increase in the proportion of first simple DUI offenders with interlocks. If installation rates had been 100 vs. 34 percent for first simple DUI offenders arrested between April and June 2006, and if the linear relationship between rates of recidivism and installations continued, recidivism could have been reduced from 9.3 to 5.3 percent. With installation rates of 100 vs. 24 percent for all first offenders, their recidivism rate could have fallen from 9.1 to 3.2 percent. Although installation rates increased somewhat after the 2003 law change, recidivism rates were not significantly affected, perhaps due to the short follow-up period before the 2004 law change. The 2004 law change was associated with an 8.3 percent reduction in single-vehicle late-night crash risk.
Conclusions: Mandating interlock orders for all first DUI convictions was associated with reductions in recidivism, even with low interlock use rates, and reductions in crashes. Additional gains are likely achievable with higher rates. Jurisdictions should seek to increase use rates and reconsider permitting reductions in DUI charges to other traffic offenses without interlock order requirements.