Washington State DUI Law: Is Your Car Talking to the Police?

Washington State DUI law currently includes a little-known provision that turns your car into a four-wheeled police agent, ready and willing to notify the police when it senses that a DUI probation violation may have occurred. Recall that in several situations, a citizen accused or convicted of a Seattle DUI or Washington State DUI is required to obtain an ignition interlock license. In essence, such a driver can legally drive only a vehicle that has a Washington State DUI ignition interlock installed. The ignition interlock is about the size of a cell phone and it requires the driver to blow into it, with a “no alcohol” (under .025) result, before the car will start. Less well known is that under Washington Administrative Code regulations the device must require the driver to submit to a “rolling retest” within ten minutes of starting the vehicle, and then at intervals not to exceed sixty minutes after the first retest. (WAC 204-50-110(7)). What happens if the device produces a result exceeding .025 during the rolling retest? According to the regulation:

“The device shall be equipped with a method of immediately notifying peace officers if the required retest(s) above is not performed, or if the result of the retest exceeds the lower of .025 BAC or the alcohol concentration as prescribed by the originating court. Examples of acceptable forms of notification are repeated honking of the vehicle's horn, repeated flashing of the vehicle's headlamps, or the wailing of a small siren. Such notification may be disabled only by switching the engine off, or by the achievement of a retest at a level the lower of .025 BAC or the maximum allowable alcohol concentration as set by the originating court.”

The law does not limit the “method” by which the interlock will accomplish “notification of police officers” under these circumstances, although it does contain recommendations including honking of the horn, etc. It won’t be long before the convergence of ignition interlock technology and existing Onstar or similar GPS technology results in police officers being notified automatically by the on board cell phone/GPS system if the interlock reading, accurate or not, is .025 or higher. Would such a DUI – related stop be legal? We will know that answer in some future appellate decision.

There are already real-life cases of the police using the factory installed Onstar equipment pursuant to a warrant to track the location of targeted vehicles. At the same time, ignition interlock devices are not 100% reliable and false positive readings can occur. If interlock technology converges with Onstar/GPS technology, it won’t be long before police officers are rushing to stop a “suspect vehicle” based upon an on-board tip that a probation violation (alcohol reading of .025 or more) has occurred.

Washington DUI courts are willing to embrace technology such as interlocks to insure that Seattle or Washington State DUI probationer is in compliance with all conditions. However, caution is urged as technologies converge in the quest for total monitoring of those accused of a Washington State DUI, since no technology is infallible.