Will Failing an Ignition Interlock be a Violation in Arizona?


Driving with an ignition interlock device is a nerve-wracking experience. The ultra-sensitive devices pick up on the slightest hint of alcohol on your breath, and are known to set off false alarms for little things like breath mints and mouthwash. Unfortunately, ignition interlock devices can’t tell the difference between a false alarm and the real thing, leaving you in a precarious position anytime you fail a test.

Whether a failed ignition interlock test counts as a violation depends on your state’s DUI laws. In Arizona, drivers who are 21 or older receive a violation for two failed breath tests, while drivers younger than 21 receive a violation for a single failed breath test. Missing or failing 3 consecutive rolling retests will also result in a violation.

The good news is that anytime you receive a violation, the Arizona MVD must notify you before taking punitive action (such as revoking your license or extending your suspension). You’ll have the opportunity to request a hearing, where you can fight the violation on the grounds that it was a false alarm. 

Driving on a Restricted License in Arizona

When a driver is arrested for a DUI in Arizona, their license may be suspended at the scene of the arrest (administrative suspension) or in court (judicial suspension). Most suspensions are applied at the scene of the arrest after the driver fails a breath test (.08 or higher) or refuses to take a breath test. 

When your Arizona driver’s license is initially suspended, you’ll have a 15-day grace period before the suspension takes effect. You’re permitted to drive without any restrictions during this time as you get your affairs in order, though you should be extremely careful and avoid getting pulled over at all costs. 

You have the right to challenge a pending suspension during the 15-day grace period, and you should absolutely take advantage of this opportunity. Consult with an attorney as soon as possible after your arrest so you have ample time to appear in court and fight the suspension. Should you fail to successfully challenge the suspension, you may be subject to the following penalties:

  • 1st Offense – 90-day suspension, up to 10 days in jail, and up to $1,600 in fines
  • 2nd Offense – one-year suspension, up to 90 days in jail, and up to $3,000 in fines
  • 3rd Offense – three-year suspension, 4 – 24 months in jail, and up to $150,000 in fines

When your license is suspended or revoked for a DUI or alcohol-related traffic violation, you can apply for a restricted license. If approved, you’ll need to install a certified ignition interlock device in your car.

What is an Ignition Interlock Device?

An ignition interlock device is a safety device that prevents people from driving while under the influence of alcohol. When installed in a vehicle, the driver will be required to take a breath test before starting the ignition. In Arizona, the pass/fail threshold for an ignition interlock device is 0.02. Should the driver fail the initial test, a short lockout period will follow before the driver can try again.

When the engine is running, the ignition interlock device will request periodic samples at random times. These tests are referred to as rolling retests. Should the driver fail a rolling retest, an alarm will sound until the driver pulls over, turns off the vehicle, and takes another test to rule out a false alarm. 

Ignition Interlock Violations 

There are five types of ignition interlock violations that can result in an extension, license suspension, or criminal prosecution:

  1. Failed breath test – drivers who are younger than 21 receive a violation for any failed breath test. Drivers who are 21 and older have a “gimme” and receive a violation for their second failed breath test. This violation results in a six-month extension.
  2. Failed/missed rolling retest – all drivers receive a violation after 3 failed/missed rolling retests. This includes turning off your vehicle while the ignition interlock device is requesting a sample, either intentionally or by mistake. This violation results in a six-month extension.
  3. Missed scheduled 90-day calibration appointment – failure to bring your vehicle in to a registered service provider to have the ignition interlock device checked will reset the time period and result in a suspended license.
  4. Tampering or circumventing the device – results in a six-month extension and possible criminal charges as a class 1 misdemeanor
  5. Disconnecting or removing the device early – resets the ignition interlock time frame and results in a suspended license. The only exception would be when you switch vehicles or manufacturers, in which case you have 72 hours to remove and install the ignition interlock device. During the changeover, you are not allowed to drive.

Eligibility for a Six-Month Deferment

First-time offenders who are required to use an ignition interlock device for one year may be eligible to remove their ignition interlock device after six months of good behavior. To qualify, you must meet all of the following conditions:

  • You have not had another DUI within the last seven years
  • Your violation was not an extreme DUI
  • Your violation did not involve an accident
  • You have completed 16 hours of substance abuse education
  • You have not had any ignition interlock test violations during the first six months
  • You have taken your vehicle in on time for four 90-day calibration appointments / compliance checks, ADOT has received the electronic reports, and the most recent check was within the last 35 days
  • It has been at least 6 months since your reinstatement date

When you’re ready to apply for a six-month deferment, contact the MVD or an authorized third-party office. If approved, the remaining six months will be considered a probationary period.

Tips to Avoid False Alarms With Your Ignition Interlock Device

False alarms can be a major headache when you have an ignition interlock device. It’s possible to fight them in court, but it’s best to just avoid them at all costs. To minimize your chances of triggering a false alarm violation, stick with the following habits until your probation period is complete:

  • Swish your mouth with water before testing
  • Refrain from drinking any alcoholic beverages
  • Avoid using alcohol-based mouthwash
  • Avoid over-the-counter medication with alcohol (like Nyquil)
  • Don’t use breath mints or chew gum while driving
  • Brush your teeth thoroughly after eating to avoid food/liquid buildup that can ferment in your mouth (especially after consuming bread, pizza, or juice)

Receive Help With Ignition Interlock Defense

Even when you do everything right and the ignition interlock device system can still fail, or a mistake can be made, and you end up receiving a violation. A violation can have major consequences for people that rely on their vehicles to maintain a way of life. If you believe there has been a mistake and you want to defend yourself in court, work with a criminal defense attorney.

Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.

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