DUI Ignition Interlocks: Dangerous but Profitable

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on March 16th, 2005

Individuals convicted of DUI are often required to have an ignition interlock device installed (at their expense) in their cars. These notoriously inaccurate and unreliable gizmos are designed to prevent the ignition from working until after the driver has breathed into a mouthpiece and registered alcohol-free (although it takes little imagination to realize that a drunk driver can start the car by simply having his passenger breathe into the device).

This latest weapon in the "war on drunk driving" has been adopted in many states with the strong lobbying of MADD — and of manufacturers who make a huge profit on the devices. Consider a story in today's (March 16, 2005) Arizona Republic:

First-time DUI offenders could agree to equip their vehicles with an ignition interlock device to prevent drunken driving rather than face suspended driver's licenses under a bill that breezed through the Senate on Tuesday….. Alberto Gutier, a former highway safety director lobbying for the Arizona Interlock Distributors Association, said increased sales isn't the bill's purpose. "It's not about expanding the market, it's about preventing drunk driving," Gutier said.

The bottom line, of course, is: Do IIDs prevent drunk driving? Do they make our streets safer? MADD claims that their "research" shows they do:

Interlocks have been shown to be effective in Maryland, Alberta, California and elsewhere with results ranging from 50 to 90 percent reductions in subsequent offenses by those offenders who were assigned interlock devices, compared with those who were not….. While interlocks are not the only solution, as offenders tend to go back to their old ways once the device is off of the vehicle, they certainly keep the roads safer while these devices are in place.

Effective in California? Keep the roads safer? The California Department of Motor Vehicles has just released a study entitled An Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Ignition Interlock in California: Report to the Legislature of the State of California. Among their conclusions:

The expected effect that an IID order/restriction issued by the court would result in a lower rate of subsequent DUI convictions was not observed. (p. 7) The risk of a subsequent crash was higher for drivers installing an IID, compared to drivers not installing a device; drivers installing an IID had a risk of a subsequent crash that was 84% higher than drivers not installing an IID. (p. 10) The results of this outcome study clearly show that IIDs are not effective in reducing DUI convictions or incidents for first DUI offenders … Because there is no evidence that interlocks are an effective traffic safety measure for first DUI offenders, the use of the devices should not be emphasized. (p. 22)

Facts notwithstanding, MADD continues its campaign for ignition interlock devices, as evidenced by a Tuesday (March 15, 2005) news article in the Tallahassee Democrat:

Mothers Against Drunk Driving held its annual legislative lobbying day, urging Florida lawmakers to lower the blood-alcohol threshold that triggers "double-drunk" penalties and calling for easier authorization of ignition-interlock devices for repeat offenders….
  • james50plus

    Interlock Installed 06/09/07

    First, I haven’t had anything to drink in over four years.

    I have a Draeger Interlock installed in my car (pre-XT) model as that’s all that was available from the one local dealer.

    My problem is that it doesn’t work as it should which creates frustrating and potentially dangerous situations due to the amount of extra attention required.

    To begin with, you have to suck/blow just right!

    Blowing Problems
    1. Didn’t suck hard enough.
    2. Didn’t suck/blow quickly enough.
    3. Blew to soft.
    4. Blew too hard.
    5. Didn’t blow long enough.
    6. Any combination of the above.

    You are allowed 10 tries in theory before a lockout scenario.

    First Problem 06/13/07

    The first time I failed was for a re-test just as I was getting ready to turn car off and get gas. After several tries, the horn blew. After a few more the horn started blowing every 20 seconds and the lights are flashing. Now, I’m driving through a busy suburban neighborhood with the horn and lights going while trying to get the interlock to accept a blow test. Finally about 10-15 minutes and 20-25 attempts, it accepted the test and passed me which stopped the horn and lights.

    Second Problem 06/23/07

    The second time I was at a hot construction site and after 10 tries before starting, the car went into lockdown for 15 minutes before I was allowed try again (which I did and got it started).

    Third Problem 06/29/07

    The third time I had a problem. I got a re-test and after 6-7 blows, it said disabled and while I was driving and started a 15 min lockout countdown. Two and one-half minutes later at a congested traffic light, the horn and lights started going off. I pulled into a parking lot and turned the car off till the remainder of the 15 minutes expired and allowed me to restart the car.
    Note: The first & third problems are contradictory as to how it’s supposed to function. I believe the third is what was supposed to happen. None the less, getting this to work as it should has become a real problem in itself.

    Fourth Problem 07/05/07

    The fourth problem today was that it totally lost its logic. I started the car and going down the interstate. Instead of the first 15 min re-test I was expecting, it said re-test after about 10 minutes. I blew and passed the rolling re-test. However, instead of putting dot’s on the screen it says “OK to Start” as if I was ready to start the car for the first time or had shut the car off and had a 4 min window to re-start without testing. It was stuck in a loop. Every 4 minutes now going down the interstate it’s goes into a 10 sec warm-up countdown and asks for another test as if the car had not been started. Each time I pass it say’s “Ok to Start” again and waits another 4 minutes. The bottom line is it’s unable to distinguish whether the car is turned on or off.
    Design flaw: It has a display measuring bars which can’t be seen while taking the test. It also provides to tones to gauges the success or not of a test. Being hearing impaired, I cannot hear the high-pitched tones (which are the first to go with a hearing loss). There is no volume control, tone adjustments, or options for external amp/speakers. I have currently overcome this by buying a $25 2″ amp with a microphone and headphone jack from Radio Shack and taping it to the back of the box. This means turning on the amp and inserting an ear-bud in addition to having to turn the stereo down and the air conditioning off every time this ask for a re-test all while under a 5 minute time restraint while driving.

  • lawmakerssuck

    The interlock does NOT work! It’s a scam of companies that make these devices in bed with lawmakers (who, apparently give really good blow jobs). I had to have one for a 1st offense in NC. I just bought a POS car to have it installed, and got my license back in a year……after paying this low-life company (I say this because the people that work there were Obviously ex-cons and had no clue what The F%$#! they were doing) $$$$$$ to have it installed and “re-callbrated” every 2 months……which was BULLSHIT……

    Mouthwash and chewing gum wouldn’t let you start YOUR OWN car???????? WTF!!!?

  • CaliforniaJ

    I have had an Intoxalock (by CTS of Iowa) installed for a year. I have a similar problem being hard of hearing and not hearing the tone for off for the “rolling retest.”

    Just recently I was informed by the DMV that my license with be revoked because I failed to comply with the interlock rules. So I have to get the device removed and cannot drive anymore.

    The reason I found out from Intoxalock is that I did not complete a ‘rolling retest” after the car was tuned off! They said I was asked to retest at a specific time and that I shut the engine off and did not perform the retest. Well I sure didn’t do it on purpose. I guess I came home, got out of the car and walked away not hearing it.

    So now my I can’t (or am not supposed to) drive. And I am a caretaker. Really stupid nitpicking rule there because I have complied otherwise on everything. It have never detected alcohol except when I forgot to wait after using mouthwash.

    I am not complaining about the requirement to use the device, just the performance and monitoring of the device itself. I’m so concerned about the thing locking me out that I drive around with it on the dash board constantly starting at it. It asks for retests sometimes every 5 minutes. There’s no way to use it for commuting because it just goes off to often.

    And if something so simple as what happened to me gets your license revoked again, it might as well have not been installed in the first place.

    I don’t drink anymore. But it’s not because of the IID, it’s because I finally got “the message” and have stayed away from drinking.

    This device might seem to work because I just found I didn’t drive anywhere that I didn’t absolutely have to go. So in my case I allowed others to drive me everywhere possible and used delivery services and UPS and so on. It didn’t really do much more than present such a hassle that I didn’t want to drive anymore.

  • Ima Not Gonna

    I have one installed on a car I do not drive. I start the car occasionally to give em readings. Drive it around the block and say I mostly ride the bus. Basically I play the odds. I don’t drink but the headaches I have dealt with concerning the device actually make the risk more palatable.

  • http://traceyathome2@yahoo.com Tracey

    I know from my experience this device is very, very unsafe, worse than text messaging; during my holiday experience. It was so distracting, confusing, scary, and frustrating. This device went off in heavy traffic and my friend did not have enough lung capacity to fulfill the requirement of this contraption. The horn, alarm and power to the vehicle go off, and then the engine shuts down; using evasive driving he had to do lots to avoid an accident because of this device. 
    P.S. Not safe foe me and my three year old

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