Repeat DUI Offenders in California Must Install Ignition-Locking Breathalyzer on Their Car Beginning Jan. 1

A Tokai Denshi employee demonstrates how to breathe into the company's ignition interlock device during a press preview in Tokyo on May 27, 2009. (Credit: Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP / Getty Images)

A Tokai Denshi employee demonstrates how to breathe into the company's ignition interlock device during a press preview in Tokyo on May 27, 2009. (Credit: Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP / Getty Images)

Those with multiple DUI convictions or whose drunken driving resulted in an injury will have to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicles to regain driving privileges once a state law goes into effect Jan. 1.

Under the law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016, offenders will be required to use device for a period of 12 to 48 months, depending on their number of violations. The statute will remain in place until Jan. 1, 2026.

The device is essentially a breathalyzer wired into a vehicle’s ignition that prevents it from starting up if the user isn’t sober. The driver will be required to submit additional breath samples during longer trips, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

While the law doesn’t mandate the device for first-time offenders whose DUI didn’t result in an injury, they can still choose to install it for six months in lieu of having their license restricted. Judges may also exert their own discretion in requiring the device for a first conviction.

The statute applies only to violations involving alcohol alone or a combined use of drugs and alcohol — not drug-only intoxication.

A pilot ignition-lock program has been in place in Los Angeles County since 2010. Alameda, Sacramento and Tulare counties also participated in the pilot.

A DMV study on the pilot’s success yielded mixed results.

Although those in the program had lower DUI recidivism rates than other offenders, the lower rates “significantly diminished over time,” according to the report.

It also found those using the device had a higher increase in crashes, including those resulting in fatality or injury, compared to those whose licenses remained suspended or revoked.

Drunken drivers kill more than 1,000 people each year in California, according to the DMV’s most recent statistics, and more than 20,000 are injured.