Pennsylvania’s most recent change to the driver’s license consequences of receiving a DUI might actually be a win-win for everyone. The new law, which took effect on August 25, 2017, requires a person convicted of even a first DUI to install into his/her vehicle an ignition interlock system prior to having his/her license fully restored. Technically, a person becomes eligible for an ignition interlock driver’s license, which, if approved, permits them to drive a vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock system. An interlock system requires the driver to blow into a device before starting the vehicle. If the device detects any alcohol on the driver’s breath, the vehicle will not start. While this may seem like a hardship and a hassle to some, the law opens new possibilities which previously were not available to drivers with DUI convictions.
Under prior Pennsylvania law, a person’s driver’s license was suspended upon a conviction of a first or subsequent DUI. While the length of the suspension varied based on number of prior offenses and the severity of the driver’s blood alcohol level, the inescapable fact remained that there was no way for a person to legally drive during the period of suspension (with one very limited exception). Ask anyone who has lost his or her license for any period of time: attempting to do the everyday, mundane things in life without a license is not an enjoyable task.
Under the new law, the same 12 or 18 months suspension penalties will still apply to underlying DUI convictions. However, under the new law, a driver with a first conviction within a ten-year period is immediately eligible to have his or her license restored so long as he or she obtains and installs an ignition interlock license. Drivers with second and subsequent offenses are also eligible for an interlock license, but must serve a suspension period of 6 – 9 months first.
Although most “first offense” DUI drivers are admitted into Pennsylvania’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, which allows drivers who successfully complete the program to reduce the length of their license suspension from 12 months to a period of 1-3 months, a certain percentage of drivers will not be eligible for ARD because of either something in their past or the particular facts of this current DUI. These same drivers can now immediately apply for the ignition interlock license, and will most likely suffer only a brief interruption in their ability to legally drive.
Additionally, even ARD suspensions of 1, 2 or 3 months will now be eligible for the interlock license. However, because of a legislative quirk in the background of how this law came to be, ARD suspensions will not be eligible for interlock until October, 2018.
There are many other intricacies to the new law which are beyond the scope of this brief article, but the result of Pennsylvania’s new ignition interlock law is clear: it permits a DUI convicted driver to serve his/her punishment and maintain his/or her driving privileges, while also providing the public an extra level of assurance that the driver is not drinking before getting behind the wheel. In this way, maybe it really is a win-win for all involved.
Dan Bush chairs Lamb McErlane’s criminal litigation department and is a partner in the firm. He is a former prosecutor in the Chester County District Attorney’s office and has over twenty years of experience prosecuting and defending individuals charged with a crime. For more information contact Dan, firstname.lastname@example.org, 610-701-3266.