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Understanding Ontario’s Ignition Interlock Program

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Most people in Ontario know that the penalties for being convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) offences are severe, but did you know that participation in the province’s Ignition Interlock Program is a mandatory requirement for reinstating your driver’s license? Do you even know what Ignition Interlock Program is?

Well, if you’ve never heard of it, know that it’s a program designed to make sure that you don’t drink and drive for a designated period after the reinstatement of your driver’s license. In essence, the program requires that any car you drive is equipped with a nanny-like device that will not allow it to start unless you pass what is essentially an in-vehicle breathalyzer.

Ignition Interlock Program Basics

If you are convicted of any DUI-related criminal charge or receive three administrative suspensions (blowing a blood alcohol concentration warning level over 0.5 but less than 0.8) within 10 years, you will be required to participate in the program. Once you have fulfilled all other sentence conditions —

  • license suspension
  • Mandatory medical evaluation
  • Minimum $1,000 fine
  • Potential jail time
  • Participation in Ontario’s “ Back on Track” education/treatment program

— your license will be reinstated with an ignition interlock designation. This designation mandates the installation of an ignition interlock device on your own vehicle(s) and prohibits driving any unequipped vehicles until the ignition interlock program term has expired. If you are caught driving without an ignition interlock-equipped vehicle, the license suspension term is extended, as is the subsequent ignition interlock term.

Ignition interlock driver’s license designation terms are applicable for:

  • Administrative suspension violations—minimum six-months.
  • First-time DUI offenders—minimum one year.
  • Second-time DUI offenders—minimum three years.
  • Third-time offenders following minimum 10-year license suspension—minimum six years.

Get Your License Suspension Reduced

While the Ignition Interlock Program serves as both a penalty for drunk driving and a deterrent to prevent future DUIs, the Ontario government is also using it as an incentive to encourage faster resolution of DUI trials. Anyone who pleads guilty to DUI charges within a designated time period can reduce the length of their driver’s license suspension and expedite their pathway through the mandatory Ignition Interlock Program. The Reduced Suspension with Ignition Interlock Conduct Review Program allows those who plead guilty to a first-time DUI-related charge to reduce their one-year compulsory license suspension term to three months. A second-time DUI offender may be able to reduce their mandatory three-year suspension down to nine months.

The program can also be accessed by first-time offenders who do not plead guilty. However, approval conditions are tougher to meet. Those who don’t plead guilty may be eligible for a six-month reduction of their license suspension, depending upon the court’s sentence upon conviction.

Understanding the Ignition Interlock Device

Ontario’s Ignition Interlock Program is operated by private companies that install and maintain the ignition interlock devices and monitor participant compliance. The device is an in-vehicle breathalyzer machine that prevents the vehicle’s ignition from starting when it detects blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) over a set limit. The device requires drivers to blow into it prior to starting, and the vehicle will not start without first receiving a breath sample. If the breath sample indicates the presence of 20 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood limit (BAC 0.02), the vehicle will not start. To ensure that drivers are not drinking while actually driving, the device periodically requests random breath samples. Failure to provide a breath sample or exceeding the BAC limit will cause the car to activate its lights and horn in an alarm-like fashion until the driver pulls off the road and turns off the ignition.

A Costly Program with Strict Conditions

Before program enrollment, offenders must comply with all other sentence terms and have completed the Back on Track program’s assessment. When enrolled in the Ignition Interlock Program and/or its related Reduced Suspension with Ignition Interlock Conduct Review Program, participants must comply with numerous conditions or risk expulsion from the program and a re-suspension of their license. Program violations that can result in program expulsion and re-suspension of the driver’s license include:

  • Impaired driving-related offences.
  • Driving any vehicle not equipped with an ignition interlock device.
  • Failure to install an approved device within 30 days of conditional license re-instatement.
  • Uninstalling the device.
  • Device tampering.
  • Missing an ignition interlock service provider appointment.

Participants in the Reduced Suspension with Ignition Interlock Conduct Review Program undergo periodic performance reviews to monitor device activity. If device monitoring proves that a participant has blown over the BAC 0.02 limit when trying to start their car, program terms are automatically extended by a minimum of three months. The same penalty can also be applied to those who miss a performance review.

Along with complying with strict program requirements, participation in the program(s) is expensive, with installation, removal, monitoring, calibration, and insurance fees adding up to between $1,500 per year and rising beyond $2,200 depending upon the service provider and type of vehicle equipped.

Consult with an Experienced Lawyer Before Pleading Guilty

The Reduced Suspension with Ignition Interlock Conduct Review Program certainly provides an incentive for pleading guilty in return for a reduced driver’s license suspension. However, offenders should always consult with an experienced lawyer before pleading guilty to consider all legal options fully. An expedited return of driving privileges may seem worthwhile, but that guilty plea will result in other onerous legal penalties and a criminal record.

Consult with Mass Tsang for your Ontario DUI Defence

The experienced criminal trial lawyers at Mass Tsang are dedicated to securing the most favourable outcome possible for those charged with DUI in Ontario. Our DUI lawyers have successfully defended thousands of Toronto-area DUI cases and have built a solid record of successfully helping their clients surmount the charges. If you or someone you know is facing DUI charges in the greater Toronto area, contact the expert lawyers at Mass Tsang today for a free consultation.

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