Tag: Ignition Interlock

In his song “Worry Worry” the late blues singer B.B. King offered an excuse for a romantic transgression:

“BABY! You know when I goofed last week I was high… you know when you’re high it don’t count.”

Photo: whitehouse.gov

And maybe in the world of love you can get away with it – though we’re not placing any bets. But what’s certain is that drunk driving is a more complex issue.

You might think that there is an excuse buried somewhere in a drunk driving incident. You had no intention of driving drunk; you sat down and had a drink, then a few more, and suddenly you were no longer thinking clearly. Your sober, deliberate self would never drive drunk. It was only your impaired, unable-to-think-it-through self who got behind the wheel. Why should your sober self suffer for what your drunk self did?

It’s true that some states allow defendants to claim intoxication as a defense for some crimes, called “specific intent” crimes. But DUI is what’s called a “general intent” crime. General intent means that you intended to do some action (push ahead of someone on the subway stairs) but didn’t intend to commit a crime (make the person fall down the stairs). Even if you didn’t intend to drive drunk when you sat down, that’s how it ended up. So you’re liable.

In addition, there are almost always administrative (non-criminal) penalties associated with driving drunk. If your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above the .08 limit, then you will automatically face suspension, fines, and possibly an ignition interlock device requirement. No conviction is required for these administrative penalties to kick in.

It’s the curious nature of alcohol that not only does it make driving dangerous and thus criminal, it also diminishes one’s ability to resist committing the crime. Many people who have been drinking can simply not be counted on to give up their car keys. That is why ignition interlocks were invented – to make the right decision for people who have already made the wrong one.

Using-Monitech-Ignition-InterlockIf you follow drunk driving issues – which have been in the news more and more lately – you might have heard of 24/7 sobriety programs. A new federal law makes it easier for states and municipalities to employ these programs as a measure to combat drunk driving. Incentive grants are designed to encourage the adoption of 24/7 alcohol monitoring as a weapon in the arsenal of anti-DUI measures.

Those measures already include ignition interlocks –car breathalyzer devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The question is: should 24/7 be considered a replacement for ignition interlocks? The answer is no.

What 24/7 Alcohol Monitoring Is

A 24/7 sobriety program requires offenders to check in at a facility and have their breath tested for alcohol, usually twice a day, morning and evening. If the offender tests positive, or fails to appear for the test, the consequences are immediate: often this is a short jail term (one or two days).

The advantage, as advocates of 24/7 programs see it, is that the program addresses the underlying alcohol problem, rather than just the drunk driving. And the theory of it – that a smaller but swifter consequence (short jail term) works better than a larger but more remote one (possibility of greater punishment down the line) – has merit.

What 24/7 Cannot Do

The main problem with 24/7 programs is that they cannot prevent the one thing that led to the situation in the first place: drunk driving. Lapses are common in any recovery program. With an ignition interlock, an offender who drinks will still be prevented from driving. He or she will not be endangering the public.

The same is not true for 24/7 programs. A person can pass a breath test at 6pm, go drinking at 7 and drive at 8. Any lapse in their program leads immediately to the danger of drunk driving. The same is not true of ignition interlocks, which are designed to prevent intoxicated people from operating vehicles.

Where MADD Stands

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), as well as other law enforcement agencies and road safety advocates, are staunch in their support of ignition interlocks as the vital means of breaking the chain between drinker and driver. A recent report by MADD made a compelling case for interlock devices, noting that since the devices were widely adopted, they have prevented 1.77 million attempts to drive drunk. The report states:

MADD is confident that an ignition interlock is the safest, most effective way to stop a drunk driver from becoming a repeat offender.

And that is the latest word. 24/7 is a useful tool for helping alcoholics in the recovery process, but it does not perform the essential duty that protects the public, by keeping intoxicated people in the parking lot or driveway, instead of on our roads.

Ignition interlocks stop drunk driversIt’s one thing to claim that a device stops drunk drivers. It’s another thing to come up with real numbers that show the device works. Recently Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) did just that. In a recent report they tallied up just how many times ignition interlocks stopped people in each state from driving drunk.

The number of drunk drivers stopped in North Carolina was 129,704.

An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Of those 129,000 fortunate drivers, 14,000 had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more, the legal limit for intoxication. At that level, all your faculties are impaired and it is considered extremely dangerous for you to be on the road.

North Carolina began using ignition interlocks in December of 2007. Just imagine those years with another 129,000 impaired drivers on the state’s roads and streets.

madd-ignition-interlock-report

(Click to read report)

MADD issued the report to emphasize how valuable ignition interlocks are to the cause of fighting drunk driving. License suspensions, a measure that courts and DMVs often impose on offenders, do not work. Too many – by some estimates half to three-quarters – of offenders with suspended licenses drive anyway. And those who tend to drive impaired will do so. Only an ignition interlock will stop a driver from starting the car and taking off down a road that could lead to injury and death.

North Carolina has been well-served by ignition interlock devices, then. Could it benefit more? Yes, according to MADD. The report mentions three areas in which the state could make improvements that would protect more of its citizens:

  • All offenders. Ignition interlocks should be mandatory for all drunk driving offenses with a BAC of .08 or more. Currently first offenders only are ordered to use an interlock if their BAC was over .15.
  • Indigent fund. There are offenders who need to use an interlock who don’t have one. The state should offer assistance to those who can’t afford the fees – it’s a public safety measure.
  • Available after arrest. DWI offenders should have the option of installing an ignition interlock right after their arrest, as a way to show their good faith, and as a protection for society. Currently just eight states give offenders this option, which would further reduce the risk of alcohol-related crashes, aid recovery for those who need it, and usually cost the state nothing.

If you haven’t read the MADD report on ignition interlocks yet, please do. It’s gives citizens, legislators, law enforcement, and road safety advocates more than 129,000 reasons why ignition interlocks are indeed a vital protection for the public.

Arizona has a reputation for a no-nonsense attitude toward drunk driving. Part of the state’s response to the offense is the Arizona ignition interlock requirement, a measure which has been in place there since 2007. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. All people convicted of drunk driving, including first offenders, must have an interlock device installed in any vehicle they drive for a period of at least one year.

No “Waiting Out” the Requirement

After an Arizona DUI you’ll need to have the interlock installed even if you don’t own the vehicle you drive. Some offenders might want to “wait out” the requirement and not drive any vehicle for a year, but this won’t work: you will not be able to regain your driving privileges until you have given the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) proof that you have had a certified ignition interlock installed, and have used it for the required period – at least one year. This is because Arizona wants all offenders to have the documented experience of driving sober before their driving privileges are restored.

Penalties for Failure or Tampering

Another area in which Arizona is strict is in ensuring that once the interlock is on, the user abide by the rules. Your interlock provider will send regular reports to ADOT detailing the usage and test results for the device you are using. If ADOT finds failed breath tests, evidence of tampering with the device or trying to bypass it, the penalty can be an extra year placed onto your interlock requirement.

There is a myth that interlocks are easy to bypass, but in fact, it’s all but impossible– usage logs are sent to ADOT, and if they indicate that you have been driving without taking a breath test, then you will face the penalty.

Moving Out of Arizona? Take Your Interlock With You.

If you move out of state during your interlock period, you will still need to complete your interlock requirement. Arizona is a member of the Interstate Driver’s License Compact, which means that 45 states have been notified of your suspension, and have agreed to treat your violation as if it had been committed within their borders. So you won’t be able to apply for driving privileges in those states. Even the other five could turn you down or require a hearing, depending on your circumstances, and in any case you would not be able to drive in Arizona.

In 2007, when ignition interlocks began being used in Arizona, there were 7,889 alcohol-related crashes. In 2014 that number dropped to 4,887. In that same time period alcohol-related road deaths dropped from 396 to 265. Several factors have brought those numbers down, but among them is Arizona’s strict policy on ignition interlock enforcement. It’s a measure that works, because the state works it.

dont-blow-off-ignition-interlockYou’re tempted. Admit it.

You have a DUI in North Carolina, and your sentence includes putting an ignition interlock on your vehicle. For the next year, you’ll have to breathe into the device every time you drive. And pay the fees. And of course, avoid alcohol when driving.

Unless you blow off your interlock. the whole thing off. Just drive without the interlock – who will know?

In fact, driving in North Carolina without a required ignition interlock is one of the all-time Bad Ideas, for a lot of reasons:

  • You’re not just driving without an interlock, you’re driving without a license. News flash: your driving privileges are not reinstated until you get that interlock. Not doing that could mean jail and fines. Because the courts issue licenses for a reason, and they revoke them for a reasons, and they don’t like it when people don’t pay attention to those reasons.
  • You’re driving without insurance. Any accident that happens is on you, including the medical bills of anyone you injure. A serious collision could unleash legal and financial demons that will hound you for the rest of your life.
  • You could lose your wheels. Impoundment is right there in the vehicle code.
  • You’ll pay more for you auto coverage. If you do get your act together and complete your interlock requirement, your arrest for driving while suspended will still be on your record. Insurance companies have a way of dealing with drivers who commit offenses. It involves more money.

North Carolina arrests more than 150,000 people each year for driving while suspended. Some are found after being stopped for violations, and others are picked up as a result of license plate checks. If you blow off ignition interlock and keep driving in North Carolina, you’re entering a lottery in which the chances are very good your number will come up. Unfortunately, the prize is more trouble than you can handle.

So if you’ve got an ignition interlock requirement, make the appointment, get the installation, and follow the rules until your interlock period is over. In the final analysis, that’s the easy way out.

tamper-with-ignition-interlocksYou’re the type who doesn’t like to play by the rules when you drive. You ride in the HOV lane even when you’re alone in the vehicle. You consider a speed limit a casual suggestion. And you chose to drink and drive, which is why you now have an ignition interlock on your dashboard.

At this point, most people are concerned about obeying the rules and getting through their ignition interlock program without incident. But not you. As a never-play-by-the-rules type, you’re thinking: how can I bypass this device?

Before you bring out your soldering iron and wire strippers, you should know that it can’t really be done. Providers see people try to tamper with ignition interlocks from time to time, but the attempts are not successful, and they end in heartache.  Here’s the lowdown:

What they try: Clipping some wires and disablng it.
What it does: Keeps the interlock from asking for a test.
Does it work? No.
Why it’s dumb:  Even if you managed to do this, the device will record the disconnection, and you’ll be in violation. And you can’t hide it, because the installation uses tamper-evident tape on the wires to show that you’ve been snipping.

What they try: Run a wire from the battery to the starter.
What it does:  Starts the car without needing a breath test.
Does it work? NO
Why it’s dumb: When you start without testing, you’ll record a violation. After a few minutes the interlock will still require a rolling re-test, which you’ll have to either fail or ignore. Either way, it’s a violation, and the data log would show that you drove too many miles without a test.  Your bypass attempt will be passed on to the authorities.

What can happen? Depends on your state. In North Carolina it’s a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a fine and a jail sentence of up to 120 days. In Arizona, the jail term can be 6 months. The offense is in the same category as possession of stolen goods or larceny – not good company to keep.

So if you’re the type who sees every restriction as an opportunity to cheat, you should think twice before joining the legion of people who have been caught trying to tamper with ignition interlocks. It’s been tried, and it doesn’t pay. The way to “beat” an ignition interlock program is to drive sober. It’s not sneaky, but it works.

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