A year into a state DUI law, 6,100 first-time offenders have installed Breathalyzer devices on their vehicles so they could continue to drive. Police and state officials applaud the Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device program, which kicked in Jan. 1, and aims to keep intoxicated drivers off the road and prevent recidivism.

A year into a state DUI law, 6,100 first-time offenders have installed Breathalyzer devices on their vehicles so they could continue to drive.

Police and state officials applaud the Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device program, which kicked in Jan. 1 and aims to keep intoxicated drivers off the road and prevent recidivism.

“We will never know how many lives we will save by having these drivers not being able to get behind the wheel and drive intoxicated,” said Susan McKinney, BAIID program director and former state executive of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

“If we put them in for first offenders, maybe they won’t become second-time offenders.”

The device requires a driver to blow into it before the car can be started. The legal BAC limit in Illinois is 0.08; the device is set to not allow ignition to start at 0.05.

It also does periodic testing while an individual is driving, preventing someone else from blowing into the machine to get the vehicle started.

Rockford police Lt. Dane Person supports the law.

“It is an excellent idea,” he said. “It provides control over individuals who have had the propensity to drive impaired.”

Rockford had 767 DUI arrests in 2008 and 735 through Dec. 17.

Mike Sonneson, co-owner of Cars & Stereos Inc. in Rockford, has one of six places in Winnebago County that installs Breathalyzers.

He said he has seen a 20 percent increase in installations this year, most for first-time offenders.

In the past, first-timers were required to obtain a judicial driving permit, which restricted the time and places a driver could go.

Attorney Albert Altamore, who said about 50 percent of his clients are DUI cases, would have liked to have seen a modification of the judicial driving permit rather than have first-time offenders install Breathalyzers.

Altamore said the cost of getting a BAIID is the biggest problem for his clients. If they cannot afford to install one, they may not be able to get to their job or do other necessary tasks. That then increases the number of people driving illegally, which could lead to felony charges.

The cost can be in the hundreds to install and then monitor the device during the length of the driver’s suspension, Sonneson said. “It starts adding up, and financially, it just beats you to a living pulp.”

Despite the lack of statistics on the success of the program, McKinney said she has gotten positive feedback — some even from people who have used it.

“We did have an offender not too long ago who completed his probation," McKinney said, "and he was going to leave the BAIID in his car because he said it helps keep him responsible.”

Matt Williams can be reached at (815) 987-1389 or mwilliams@rrstar.com.