Tag: North Carolina

drinking vanilla extractToo much vanilla extract can do more than give your custard an aftertaste. It can also give you a police record.

A man recently crashed his truck in Morganton, North Carolina. Police noticed an odor in the cab, but not the expected smell of beer or vodka: they detected vanilla. As it turned out, the driver had been drinking vanilla extract – a lot of it – and had ended up with a blood alcohol concentration of .26, more than three times the legal limit.

It was clearly no accident – to have that much vanilla extract in your system, you need to drink it deliberately. But how much did he have to drink?

Alcohol: Forbidden for Drivers, Mandatory for Vanilla

Federal law states that vanilla extract must be at least 35 percent alcohol, and have 100 grams of vanilla beans per litre.

vanilla cone35 percent alcohol is 70 proof – five times an average beer, well over twice what most wines have. You can buy rum or liqueurs with a similar alcohol content, and most people who like to drink do that instead of drink vanilla.

It is unlikely, however, that the vanilla extract in your bread pudding will get you drunk, or even register on a breathalyzer. Most recipes call for a teaspoon or two at most which, when spread out over a  whole dessert and baked to boot, will yield no more than a trace amount of alcohol.

Drinking vanilla extract, however, is another matter. In the Morganton case, the offender probably downed a whole bottle – and a good sized one, perhaps 12 ounces or more – in order to reach such a high alcohol level.

North Carolina imposes strict penalties on DWIs, including fines, license suspension, imprisonment, community service, and an ignition interlock requirement (because of the .15 BAC level).

Vanilla extract is great stuff. But it belongs in the kitchen, not on the road.

It began in the mid-2000s. Nevada and Arizona started something that is still sweeping the country. They mandated ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenses, including first offenses.

An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Other states had been adopting the device since the 1990s to keep convicted drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel, but the device was seen as a last resort, appropriate for serial offenders. Perceptive legislators in Arizona and Nevada realized that mandating the device for all offenders would bring down alcohol-related fatality rates, and they were right. In some cases the rates plummeted.

Other state legislators took notice, and today 30 states have made the devices available for any convicted drunk driver. The devices allow the offender to regain driving privileges without the risk of letting a drunk driver on the road.

North Carolina is among the states that has not yet hopped on board. Ignition interlocks are only required for multiple DWI offenders, or first offenders who are found to have a very high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) – .15 or greater. While it’s important that multiple offenders and “super-drunk” drivers have an ignition interlock installed, the 30 states that require the interlock device for every DWI offender have it right.

North Carolina DWI Laws Need to Change

The roads and streets of North Carolina would be safer if the North Carolina DWI law specified:

  • Mandatory ignition interlock for all DWI offenders with a BAC of .08 or greater
  • The interlock device should be available upon arrest – in other words, before trial.
  • An indigent fund should exist to help pay for interlocks for those who cannot pay themselves
  • There should be compliance-based removal: the device is not removed unless the offender has passed a given amount of time (we propose 4 months) without a failed test. This ensures that he or she is able to drive responsibly.

There is no cure-all for drunk driving, but there are strategies that have been proven to save lives, and an all-offender ignition interlock law is among the best. Citizens who value public safety in North Carolina should let their legislators know that they want their state to join the national trend that is taking drunk drivers off the roads.

darkness from NC drunk driver

Darkness courtesy of NC drunk driver

We often look at the damage drunk drivers do in terms of themselves – they get killed and injured – and others. And impaired driving is responsible for some 10,000 deaths each year, and 290,000 injuries – that’s an injury every two minutes.

But the decision to drink and drive can cost us in other ways. Taxes are higher because law enforcement, the courts, and prisons come into play when people drive drunk. And there is the cost of property – not just cars, but road signs, guard rails, houses, and other structures that stand in the way of vehicles piloted by drunk drivers.

Light poles are a common target. In Winston-Salem recently some 2,300 people were de-electrified thanks to the decision of a motorist to get behind the wheel after drinking. And this type of crash is not as rare as you might think. A year ago in Clayton, a similar crash put a thousand homes in the dark.

There are costs to power outages beyond missing a TV show. Food gets spoiled. Some people lose money because they are unable to work, or their business premises are unable to function.

But people who aren’t swayed by the thought of injury and death – their own or someone else’s – aren’t going to worry about electric power for a neighborhood. That is why North Carolina will need to keep the pressure on drunk drivers through laws. One way it could reduce the chances of mishaps like this would be to enact a law requiring ignition interlocks for all DWI offenders with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more. Currently the devices, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, are only mandated for first offenses if the BAC is .15 or higher.

Repeat DWI offenders don’t think about the consequences of their actions, so we need to, through laws and technology that’s been proven to work. We can’t catch every NC drunk driver before he or she breaks the law, but we’re far from powerless.

handcuffs- pleading down drunk drivingPeople are individuals, and so are their crimes. This is why our justice system allows flexibility in charging and sentencing. However, the crime of drunk driving is so straightforward that it’s often exempt from such bargaining. In many states pleading down drunk driving charges is not permitted. Most states also have mandatory penalties such as jail time and ignition interlock requirements.

A recent case shows how giving DUI offenders a break can cost society dearly.

Kelly Ann Conkin was sentenced this month for killing a 79 year old woman in an alcohol-related wreck. Her BAC was 2.1, more than twice the legal limit. The collision happened in Steele Creek in Charlotte, North Carolina. The sentence was 12 to 15 years.

Conkin had been arrested three times for drunk driving. Yet she had a license to drive, because of a combination of mistakes, deception and bad luck.

  • First time: When she was first arrested for DUI, the charge was pled down to reckless driving – a measure that is available to drunk drivers in some states so that a DUI does not go on their record. In this way they avoid a wide range of penalties.
  • Second time: Conkin’s second arrest, in Charlotte, was her first official DWI, since her first real drunk driving charge didn’t count as such.
  • Third time.  She was arrested a third time in South Carolina, but the courts managed to miss the previous North Carolina DUI. So once again, she was prosecuted as a first offender. That made her eligible for fewer consequences.

For Want of an Ignition Interlock, a Life Was Lost

The crucial fact is that, had Conkin’s last drunk driving episode been prosecuted as a repeat DUI instead of a first offense, she would have had an ignition interlock installed in her vehicle on the day she killed Cecilia Buitrago de Gonzalez. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

That means that Gonzalez’s death might have been avoided if the offender had not been allowed to reduce the first offense.

Ignition interlocks are unique in that they are the only measure apart from imprisonment that prevents an offender from repeating a crime. In order for ignition interlock laws to work effectively, they must be enforced. That means that first offenders should be charged with the appropriate crime – DUI. Only then can repeat drunk drivers be identified and prevented from causing harm and suffering on our roads.

signs of drunk driving in north carolina.

When scoping the roads, the police look for the signs of drunk driving. Some of those signs are subtle, some are obvious.

And once in a while, the signs are flattened.

Recently a woman drove over a street sign at the junction of Mills Road and Ivy Road in Greenville. She was trying to negotiate the roundabout– a roundabout that was placed there less than a year ago to prevent crashes –when she hopped a curb, barrelled over a road sign and continued driving over two flat tires. Eventually she stopped. She told a State Trooper she didn’t remember hitting the road sign.

Signs of Drunk Driving: Obliviousness

This isn’t just an amusing anecdote – it’s a lesson we can stand to learn. A road sign makes a pretty pronounced crunch when you ride over it. It’s a scary sound – or should be – and it’s pretty hard to ignore. A driver who doesn’t hear that is seriously impaired.

And a driver who doesn’t know when she hits a road sign will not know when she hits a child. Alcohol affects more than just coordination – it impairs vision and hearing as well. When alcohol levels are high enough, a person operating a 3,000 pound machine is effectively unaware of his or her surroundings.

Some of the signs of a drunk driver, matched with the impairment that caused it.

  • Veering off the center line: a result of decreased concentration and poor vision
  • Too wide turning: Impaired tracking ability means the driver can’t judge the car’s position on the road
  • Waiting at green light: Alcohol decreases attention span, so a driver can’t keep his or her mind on the task at hand.
  • Inconsistent signaling: Drinking also reduces a drivers’ comprehension, so they are likely to make irrational decisions.

There’s a long list of signs that police look for, not that they had to go through too many in this case. The sign on the ground was plenty.

But remember, it’s only funny because the victim was a road sign and not a living soul.

north carolina ignition interlockIf you’ve been ordered to install an ignition interlock, and you’re a North Carolina driver, you might have some questions about this new device that’s about to enter your life.

No worries – it’s not difficult to manage, and your life will soon be back to normal if you follow instructions and learn the basics. Here are some facts that North Carolina drivers should know if they have a DWI and are about to get an interlock device.

You’ve been ordered to install an ignition interlock. What is that?

An ignition interlock is a device, attached to a vehicle’s ignition, which reads a breath sample from the driver and prevents the vehicle from starting if it detects alcohol in the sample.

How does the interlock device detect alcohol?

An ignition interlock has a fuel cell – a platinum electrode which actually removes alcohol from the breath by separating it into acetic acid and water. This chemical reaction produces a current which can be precisely measured. The greater the concentration of alcohol the higher the current.

Can an ignition interlock stop my vehicle?

Absolutely not. An interlock is connected to the ignition. It can only prevent a car or truck from starting. Once it’s going, the device can’t affect the vehicle.

Once I’ve started my vehicle, what’s to keep me from drinking?

After you’re underway, the ignition interlock will prompt you for another breath sample every once in a while. This is known as the “rolling re-test,” and is designed to prevent users from drinking alcohol after starting their vehicles.

If I fail a rolling re-test, will my car stop?

No. Once again, an ignition interlock cannot stop a vehicle in motion. You are given warnings if your alcohol level registers too high. If you fail a rolling re-test due to alcohol on your breath, your horn will sound repeatedly.

Who must install an ignition interlock in North Carolina?

Courts in North Carolina are required to order the installation of an ignition interlock if a person is driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 percent or greater. Drivers who are convicted of a previous impaired driving offense must also install the device after their second conviction. Also, drivers arrested for DWI who refuse a blood alcohol test must install the device.

How many North Carolina drivers have interlocks?

There are well over 10,000 ignition interlocks installed in vehicles in North Carolina. They are helping keep the roads safer.

Once I have my ignition interlock installed, what else do I have to do?

Two things: first, drive sober. The second is to come in regularly for a monitoring appointment. Once every 30 or 60 days you will be required to bring your vehicle in so that the ignition interlock provider can download the monitoring data for the authorities. This is also when your device will be calibrated to ensure that readings are 100 percent accurate.

Is it possible to have a false positive test?

Occasionally food residue in the mouth can ferment and cause the device to issue a warning. When that happens, you just need to rinse out your mouth and you’ll be good to go. Some alcohol-based substances such as cologne, hand sanitizer and windshield washer fluid can also trigger the device, but with a little practice you can easily avoid a false positive.

How long must I have my ignition interlock installed?

Interlock terms vary depending on the situation. Usually the more previous convictions, the longer the term. One year is the standard starting term, though in extreme cases the device can be ordered for a 10-year term.

Can other people use my interlock-equipped vehicle?

Yes. It takes a few minutes of training to use an ignition interlock. When the device is installed you’re instructed in its use. Monitech Ignition Interlock is happy to train any additional users free of charge.

However, please note that as the one ordered to install the ignition interlock, you are responsible for any violations that your device registers. So make sure that other users have not consumed any alcohol.

What happens if I drive without my ignition interlock?

Driving without an ordered North Carolina ignition interlock is illegal. The penalty is revocation of all driving privileges for one additional year.

Where can I get more information about North Carolina ignition interlock use?

Monitech Ignition Interlock has robust customer support. Also, check with NCDOT if you need information on the North Carolina ignition interlock program.

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