Reducing Drunk Driving through the Ignition Interlock Program

Posted by Injury Lawyers of Ontario on March 24, 2017

In 2005, there were about 17,000 impaired driving incidents reported by police in Ontario.  Also in that year, almost 4000 people were injured and more were 174 killed in motor vehicle accidents involving drinking and driving.   The Ministry of Transportation has reported that about 25 per cent of road fatalities are the result of impaired driving actions.  Drinking and driving takes a huge financial toll, but most devastating is the tragedy of catastrophic injuries, lost lives and families impacted by a terrible loss due to an alcohol-related accident

MADD reports that the typical drunk driver has driven drunk about 80 times prior to their first arrest (  Even when a driver’s licence was suspended after a drunk driving-related conviction, the reality is that a large percentage of these drivers continued to drive with a suspended licence, particularly before the ignition interlock system is introduced in a particular jurisdiction. In Ontario, ignition interlock devices were first legislated in 2001.

After ignition interlock legislation was passed in the United States, the states that introduced the new laws experienced a dramatic decrease in drunk driving-related deaths.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that there were reductions in repeat offences in about two thirds of cases due to ignition interlock.  It is believed that this reduction in repeat offences has prevented thousands of injuries and saved many lives every year.

An ignition interlock device is a breath screening device to be installed in a vehicle, with the purpose of preventing a vehicle from starting if a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeding .02 is detected.  The device is normally installed near the driver’s seat and is hooked up to the engine’s ignition system.  The system requires a driver to blow into the device before they start their vehicle, and drivers also need to provide additional breath samples at random pre-set times upon request when the vehicle is running.  If someone fails to provide a requested sample or their BAC exceeds the limit, the device issues a warning, records the event and sets off an alarm system (such as horn honking and lights flashing) until the driver turns off the ignition.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation requires someone to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle if they are convicted of an impaired driving-related offence under the Criminal Code, or suspended three of more times within a 10-year period for various reasons, including driving with a BAC above .05.  More details can be found on the Ministry website.  After being charged, if a driver wants to drive after their licence is re-instated, they must register with an approved interlock service provider to have an ignition interlock device installed. The device must also be inspected regularly.   It is against the law to drive without an interlock device until the condition is removed from your licence, and drivers found in contravention with the law face fines and charges under the Highway Traffic Act.    

Drivers convicted on an alcohol-related offence for the first time may be able to reduce their licence suspension period by completing a remedial measures requirement and having an ignition interlock device installed.   By entering the Reduced Suspension with Ignition Interlock Conduct Program, a person may have their license suspension shortened from one year to only three months. This approach protects the public while limiting the time that a person charged with drinking and driving is without the use of their vehicle.

Although no tool or system is infallible, ignition interlock is a useful system to help reduce the incidence of impaired driving.  In combination with tougher laws and policing for drunk driving offences, public education on the risks of impaired driving, mandatory assessment and treatment programs, and other initiatives, Ontario has experienced a decrease per capita, in police-reported drunk driving offences in the past few decades (beginning even before the ignition interlock program was enacted).  Nevertheless, let’s not forget that drunk driving is still the number one cause of criminal death in Canada.

Although drunk driving accidents have declined, this is no consolation for anyone who has been injured or lost a family member due to a drunk driving accident.   A serious or catastrophic injury, such as traumatic brain injury or severe spinal injury is often a life-changing event, impacting one’s enjoyment in life, ability to function independently, marital and social relationships, and the ability to work in one’s chosen field.  Close family members are also substantially affected, as they commonly provide support and care for an injured loved one, and of course, the impact on family members is particularly devastating if a loved one is fatally injured due to an impaired driver or another negligent act.

At Injury Lawyers of Ontario, our highly respected law firms have many years of experience in helping families obtain favourable compensation following a motor vehicle accident caused by a negligent driver.  If you were seriously injured in a car, pedestrian or cycling accident, call an ILO car accident lawyer in your community to learn about your optimal legal options given the distinct circumstances of your case. 


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