New data: California drunken drivers ignore car alcohol detector law

San Francisco police officers check drivers at a sobriety checkpoint in 2004.
San Francisco police officers check drivers at a sobriety checkpoint in 2004.
Getty Images

Records show Los Angeles is among the few California counties where convicted drunken drivers ignore a law requiring installation of alcohol detectors in their cars.

The Sacramento Bee says early results from Los Angeles county as well as Sacramento, Alameda and Tulare counties suggest offenders are ignorant of the requirement or are willfully ignoring it.

Only about 30 percent of offenders have provided evidence they have installed the devices.

State officials say the data indicates offenders are either choosing not to drive or they are driving with suspended licenses.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles oversees the alcohol detector program.

The law went into effect in mid-2010. A dashboard breath analyzer and ignition interlock device blocks a car's engine from starting if the driver has alcohol on his or her breath.

The law's author, Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, told the Bee that he's disappointed but that he has talked with DMV and other state officials and believes they are committed to increasing compliance.

"This is literally a life-and-death issue," Feuer told the paper. "We are moving faster, I am told, than other states did (with similar laws). The compliance rate is better than it was, but that is not nearly good enough."

DMV officials say they mail notices to all convicted drunken drivers in the four counties informing them they must have a device installed when their license suspension period is over.

According to the Sacramento Bee, nearly 27,700 drivers in the four counties should have had devices installed as of mid–October, DMV data show. However, only 8,173 have actually done it.

Under the law, device installation companies must submit papers to the state notifying it of each transaction. If a driver doesn't have proof of compliance, the DMV will not issue a reinstated license, officials said.

DMV officials said they have received no documentation from 19,500 drivers. Those officials said it is likely many of them are postponing seeking reinstatement to avoid the cost, hassle and potential stigma of having the devices in their car. The rental cost for an ignition interlock device can top $400 over a five-month period, in addition to the $45 administrative fee charged by the DMV.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.