Virginia Ignition Interlock – From Install to Violation

What is ignition interlock?

Ignition interlock is a device that is installed in your vehicle, locking down your ignition so that you can’t start the vehicle without going through the device.

The point of ignition interlock is to determine whether or not the operator of the vehicle has alcohol in their system. Some people refer to it as “blow and go,” because you have to blow into the interlock before you can actually start the car. Also, ignition interlock systems have what’s called a “rolling retest feature.” This means that the systems beep at you while you’re driving and make you blow into the device again, confirming that you are the driver and you didn’t have someone else start the car for you.

The ignition interlock systems must be installed by an approved provider. There are four approved providers in Virginia. The provider is also the person you visit to have the system calibrated each month. They ensure that the system is working properly and that the data is downloaded for those who are monitoring the interlock system.

This is a video I put together so you can see exactly what it looks like and how to start your car with it.

Will you be required to have ignition interlock?

This is, of course, most people’s main concern: will they need, or be required by the court, to have interlock? There are too many factors about interlock to go into detail in a brief article like this; however, I can give you some general guidance about the interlock requirements in Virginia.

Interlock is required for a first-offense DUI in order to have a restricted license.

If this is just your first offense for a DUI conviction, you will only need interlock if you go on a restricted license. What that means is that if you can get away without driving for the year that you’re suspended for a DUI conviction, you will never need to have interlock. You can wait the year out, go back to the DMV at the end of the year, pay your reinstatement fee, fulfill your insurance requirements, take the driving test, and be back on the road without ever needing interlock.

However, if you need a restricted license– which is what most people will need to survive that year and be able to drive to work, for example–then you will have to get ignition interlock for that restricted license. The actual requirement under the law is that you will not be allowed to operate any vehicle for the first 6 months of a restricted license unless you have functioning ignition interlock installed on the vehicle.

Note that the interlock can be removed after the first 6 months at the discretion of the judge. This is not an automatic removal, so if you have an interlock violation during the first 6 months, the judge is normally not going to allow it to be removed right away. You may have additional requirements or additional time where you must have interlock installed.

Ignition interlock is required for license restoration for all second-offense DUIs.

If this is a second-offense DUI that you’re convicted of, you will have to get ignition interlock at some point in order to drive again in Virginia. If you get a restricted license when you’re eligible–which could be 4 months or 12 months after the event, depending upon the conviction that you get–then you would need an ignition interlock right away in order to have a restricted license. If you don’t get a restricted license and you wait out the 3-year suspension, you will need an interlock at that point in order to get your license back. You cannot sidestep the interlock requirement for a second-offense case like you can for a first-offense case. You will need the interlock at some point, so it makes sense to get a restricted license at least maybe two years after your conviction. That way the ignition interlock clock will start running so you can get a full, unrestricted license back three years after your conviction ends.

The judge can order ignition interlock.

Depending upon your case, the judge could potentially order ignition interlock in other situations. For example, on a case where you might be getting a break on a DUI and getting a reckless driving reduction, the judge could order ignition interlock to be put on your vehicle even though it’s not required by statute. The judge has quite a bit of discretion for ignition interlock, so that’s a requirement you might face, depending on the outcome of your case.

What does ignition interlock cost?

Aside from the question of whether or not you need ignition interlock, the next important question clients ask is “how much does ignition interlock cost?” Interlock costs about $80.00 a month. Last year we did a thorough survey of the four interlock companies in Virginia and gathered the pricing so we could have that information for clients. Many of the companies roll all costs into that $80.00-a-month payment, so while it’s not something that you want to pay, it is somewhat affordable to pay. If it means that you can’t drive to work otherwise, then it’s pretty much required to pay that money.

Note that some providers may charge you a fee to take off the ignition interlock. That’s something you should definitely discuss with the provider beforehand so that you understand the total overall costs.

When choosing a provider, you also need to consider whether or not the judge has required that you have a camera installed with your system. Most of the judges in the Stafford, Fredericksburg, and Spotsylvania areas now require that you have an ignition interlock with a camera installed. One of the companies in Virginia, Draeger, does not have camera units available, so make sure that you pick a provider who can meet the judge’s requirements for your case.

How does ignition interlock installation work?

Virginia law is weird. It says that you cannot get ignition interlock installed voluntarily. This makes no sense to me because it’s private companies who install it. I don’t understand why the State is allowed to prohibit private companies from contracting with private individuals to install a piece of equipment that doesn’t affect the safety of the vehicle. However, the law is clear and states that the ignition interlock companies cannot install the device unless the court orders it.

Practically speaking, this means that you cannot get the interlock installed before you are convicted for a DUI. The ridiculousness there is that you can’t accept the punishment that’s going to come at you and prepare yourself for it. You can’t go ahead and get your ducks in a row before you go to court. The law won’t allow it.

What you can do for ignition interlock to be prepared for court is to go ahead and pre enroll in VASAP. Then VASAP can pre-qualify you for ignition interlock and they can actually refer you to an interlock company to schedule your interlock installation for a day right after court. In some cases, depending on the court schedule and the interlock company’s schedule, you can potentially have the installation appointment on the same day as court.

The benefit here is that it really shrinks the timeline of you getting back on the road; if you’re going to court and are found guilty of a DUI, you cannot drive from that very moment until you get a restricted license in place and have ignition interlock installed. Depending upon the area you’re in and the demand for interlock installers, it could take at least several days (and I’ve heard as long as a couple of weeks) to get an interlock appointment. That’s why it can be to your great advantage if you can get into VASAP early to pre-enroll and be able to get an interlock appointment scheduled to happen directly after court.

The way the process works is that you first have to apply for the restricted license with the court. They will give you what I refer to as the “green sheets,” because they’re green pieces of paper. This is your actual restricted license order. You will take the green sheets to VASAP and have VASAP sign off on them to say that you are enrolled. Then VASAP can refer you to an ignition interlock company to get your interlock installed. You’ll need to call the company of your choice to schedule an appointment and have someone take your vehicle there to get the device installed.

Can you have ignition interlock installed on someone else’s vehicle?

Yes. The interlock companies will allow you to install interlock on a vehicle that is not registered to you, but there are a couple of requirements you’ll have to meet.

One way to handle this is to have the actual registered owner of the vehicle present with you at the installation. If it’s not possible to have the owner of the vehicle at the installation, you can have a notarized letter or form from the owner giving the interlock company permission to install the interlock on the vehicle. That notarized letter will need to be present, of course, at the installation in order to have the interlock installed.

Surprisingly, this situation comes up quite frequently when you have vehicles that are titled in a spouse’s name or a parent’s name. The law on the interlock companies do allow for you to have interlock installed on a vehicle you drive that is titled in someone else’s name.

The key thing to remember in this situation is that you are going to be responsible for any violations registered on that interlock device. If you’re sharing a car with someone else, and they’re letting you install the interlock on it, you must be absolutely certain that they’re not going to have a violation of the interlock. That will come back on you and you’ll have some arguing about that violation (and judges do not take keenly to the argument of “it was not me.”)

What if you have an interlock violation?

When you get an ignition interlock installed, it will be through VASAP. They’re going to have you sign an interlock agreement which will say, basically, that you can’t have any alcohol in your system and if you violate the interlock, you’re going to be in trouble. Well, what exactly will happen?

For your first interlock violation, if you take responsibility for it or at least directly report it to your VASAP case manager and have some type of explanation, a lot of times you’ll get a second chance. It depends on the case manager and it’s certainly at their discretion, but you may not be violated right away. They may intensify your other requirements, such as possibly putting you into a treatment program (if you weren’t already), but you may not be immediately facing a violation in court.

If and when you do get violated from VASAP, there’s a procedure for what happens. Normally for a DUI case you have suspended jail time, which means you have time over your head that you do not have to serve as long as you do everything the court tells you to do. If you have an ignition interlock violation, what will normally happen is that VASAP will return your case to court and you’ll face the possible imposition of that suspended jail time, which basically means you could go to jail for blowing positive in your interlock.

The exact procedure for a violation does vary depending on the court and the case manager. VASAP will normally send a letter to the court that alleges a violation, and then the court will determine what’s going to happen and whether you’re going to get a capias or a show cause.

A show cause is preferable, since it’s just an order for you to appear in court on a certain date to argue about why you shouldn’t go to jail.

A capias is a bench warrant for your arrest. If the judge issues a capias, I usually recommend promptly turning yourself in. It simply looks better to the judge, and it is more convenient than being arrested.

Either way, you end up back in court, and you’ll have a hearing date to argue about the alleged violation. This is definitely a hearing where you’ll want to have an attorney, since you are likely facing the real possibility of going to jail.

How do you fight an interlock violation?

If you’re accused of blowing positive for alcohol on your interlock, we should talk. You may have defenses that we can use in court to fight the VASAP violation.

The main evidence against you will be the interlock logs. We can argue against the logs with testimony or other evidence about you not drinking. It’s an uphill battle for sure, but the interlock devices are not foolproof. Depending upon the situation, we may be able to argue that the device isn’t accurately reading your blood alcohol content. Any number of substances could interfere with the interlock device, and the devices themselves can have false positives.

The problem, of course, lies with getting the judge to believe our evidence.

The good news is that even if the judge finds you guilty of a violation, we can still argue about the sentence. The judge isn’t required to put you in jail. Depending upon all the factors of your case, such as treatment you may be doing and how well you’re complying with VASAP’s other requirements, we might be able to convince the judge to re-suspend all the jail time.

Photo by: national museum of american history

Andrew Flusche

My name is Andrew Flusche. I am a traffic and misdemeanor defense lawyer in Virginia. I limit my practice to traffic tickets and misdemeanor defense, so I know the ins and outs of these offenses. I literally wrote the book on reckless driving in Virginia which you can get on Amazon here or download for free here. I opened my practice in 2008 after earning my Juris Doctor degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. Since then I have earned over 600 5-star reviews from happy clients on Google, Yelp, Facebook, and Avvo. If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor offense in Virginia, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Your initial consultation is always free, and you'll talk directly with me about the details of your case.
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