Judge's gavel

Iowa’s 24/7 Sobriety Pilot Program Closes Loophole

A recent statutory change to Iowa’s 24/7 sobriety pilot program is expected to increase the usage of Temporary Restricted Licenses (TRL) and Ignition Interlock Devices through a novel approach to close a glaring loophole in the previous law.

Iowa’s new law took effect on July 1, 2020. However, it won’t officially be enforced in pilot program counties until the state’s Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted.

How Does Iowa’s 24/7 Sobriety Pilot Program Work?

It all started in July 2019 with a pilot program in Woodbury County, Iowa that established a 24/7 sobriety testing requirement. The court could order clients who met certain criteria to be tested for alcohol or drugs via breathalyzer twice a day at the county sheriff’s office.

The 24/7 program is for first-time offenders:

  • With a blood alcohol content of greater than 0.15, or;
  • Who are involved in a personal injury or property damage accident.
  • Who refuse a test.

It also applies to any driver with a second or subsequent violation of the OWI law in Iowa.

Changes Enhance Safety, Encourage Accountability

From its beginning, the major goals of the 24/7 pilot program included:

  • Encouraging individual accountability and alcohol-free behaviors.
  • Reducing recidivism by enforcing strict restrictions and rigorous testing.
  • Reducing pressure on the jails in Woodbury County. They often hold anywhere between 25 and 35 alcohol-related offenders on any given day.

Attorney Doug Struyk is a lobbyist for Intoximeters, Inc. The company provides alcohol breath testing devices for law enforcement and other agencies.

“In the partnership with Smart Start and Intoximeters, we believe in 24/7 and the sobriety that comes with it,” he said. “We see the benefit of proven, long-term impacts on recidivism rates through participation in the program, combined with the reduction in alcohol-related accidents and arrests with the use of Ignition Interlock.”

A Catch-22 for the Courts

In the original program, 24/7 would be ordered by the court as a condition of sentencing or probation. In order to take part in 24/7, however, the participant had to obtain a Temporary Restricted License (TRL) and an Ignition Interlock Device (IID), among other requirements.

However, Struyk said, the pilot program had a rather large loophole. By law, the judges weren’t allowed to require participants to get a TRL – or an IID – even though they were a prerequisite for the 24/7 program.

In other words, a participant needed a TRL and IID to take part in Iowa’s 24/7 sobriety pilot program as ordered. But the courts couldn’t compel them to get a restricted license. That meant that judges would eventually have to rescind the 24/7 order.

“Offenders could simply say, ‘I don’t want to get my TRL because I don’t want to do 24/7’,” Struyk said. “What we saw was a reduction in use of Ignition Interlocks by two-thirds. That was obviously the opposite of what we wanted to happen.”

So, many offenders simply chose to continue driving with a suspended license, with no Ignition Interlock and no 24/7 program requirement.

“It’s been called a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” Struyk said. “You get put on the 24/7 program, but you don’t have to get a restricted license or an IID. And if you don’t get those, then you never have to participate in the 24/7 program.

“It was a Catch-22 for the judges,” he added. “They couldn’t compel the offenders to do anything. So, we needed to fix that.”

Closing the Loophole

Getting rid of the loophole is all about saving lives, Struyk said.

A temporary license and IID are still not required in order to begin the Iowa 24/7 sobriety pilot program. However, an offender now has to prove that they have an IID on their vehicle in order to complete the 24/7 program.

The court can still order them to participate in Iowa’s 24/7 sobriety pilot program. But now they can’t be released from their 24/7 program requirement until they show proof of a TRL.

So instead of constantly having to figure out how to get to the sheriff’s office twice a day, it’s easier just to get the temporary license and IID.

“The judge can say you have to show up twice a day at the sheriff’s office and blow,” Struyk said. “If you don’t get a TRL to drive yourself, you’ll have to figure out an alternate way to get there. If you’re foolish enough to drive to the sheriff’s office or anywhere else in your vehicle, you’re driving without a license.”

The pilot project will continue in Woodbury County, which includes Sioux City and other municipalities. Other counties will have the option to participate in Iowa’s 24/7 sobriety pilot program.