Saturday, December 4, 2010

Will Ignition Interlocks End Drunk Driving?

by ptbarone on July 9, 2009

According to a July 1, 2009 Time Magazine article entitled Coming Soon: A Breathalyzer in Every Car.

[A] new highway bill pending before Congress would instruct all 50 states to require all motorists convicted of driving under the influence to equip their cars with interlock systems that shut down a vehicle when a measured amount of alcohol is detected. 

Here is what MADD has to say about this;

Dear MADD Supporter,

Can you picture a nation without drunk driving?  Your assistance is urgently needed to help realize this vision by ensuring that many of the provisions of MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving become federal law.  Legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives which seeks to require states to undertake a number of reforms to combat drunk driving consistent with the Campaign.  The bill, known as the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009, would improve highway safety by implementing the Campaign nationally.

In the 1980s, MADD fought successfully to establish 21 as the minimum legal drinking age.  In the 1990s, MADD prevailed again in its fight to set .08 as the per se BAC limit.  Now, in 2009, we MUST put the U.S. on the path towards eliminating drunk driving.  To do this, we need your help and your voice.  You must act immediately! 

Are you up to the challenge?  Then call your Member of Congress and say that you support the impaired driving safety provisions in the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009.  With your help, we CAN eliminate drunk driving. 

There are many interesting things about this new campaign.  First, it would seem that MADD has tacitly acknowledged that their prior multi-decade campaign of slowly and gradually increasing penalties for convicted drunk drivers has failed to reduce the number of drunk driving arrests, which in Michigan remains consistent at around 45-50 thousand arrests per year.  Thus, despite the fact that Michigan’s drunk driving laws get tougher almost every year, the number of  drunk driving (DUI/OWI) arrests has stayed about the same.  Hopefully judges will take notice and recognize also that ever more stringent punishment for drunk drivers, including mandatory jail time, simply has little if any deterrent effect.  This is why we at the Barone Defense Firm stress treatment for our clients as we believe this will better lead to the elimination of repeat drunk driving offenders.

Another thing that is worth knowing is that ignition interlock devices simply don’t work all that well.  A big problem with them is that they use what are called fuel cells to measure the presence and amount of alcohol in a person’s breath, and fuel cells, and therefore ignition interlocks are non-specific for beverage alcohol.  According to Dr. Michael Hlastala’s upcoming DWI Journal: Law and Science article entitled: Limitations of Transdermal Alcohol Testing:

The fuel cell converts electrochemical energy stored in the ethanol molecule into electrical energy manifested as an electrical current.  Fuel cells are not specific for ethanol (ethyl alcohol).  They react with any chemical having an hydroxyl group (-OH), and will thus react to chemicals other than ethyl alcohol, but with a different sensitivity.  Examples of chemicals that can get into the body by inhalation of fumes or skin contact are: methyl alcohol (wood alcohol – used to produce bio-diesel fuel), n-propanol (cleaning solvent), isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol, metabolically produced in uncontrolled diabetes), butyl alcohol, butoxyethanol (strong cleaning agent), ethylene glycol (antifreeze), propylene glycol (used as food supplement) and glycerine (used in many soaps).

How would you feel if you couldn’t get to work on a cold wintery morning because your windshield wiper fluid set off your car’s interlock?  This is exactly what happened to one of our clients, and what will happen time and again across the country if this bill goes into law.

Another significant issue is that it is currently lawful to drink and drive, and unless we reenact prohibition along with this interlock bill there is no way to fairly administer the law.  Think about it this way; do we set the interlocks so that they shut down cars when a delivered breath sample is .08 or above?  If so, then the .08 must mean something, fuel cells are known to produce unreliable quantitative results.  This is why in Michigan the results of the road side preliminary breath testing devices are inadmissible in most instances.  The fuel cell is simply a screening tool to help the officer determine if alcohol has been consumed, in other words to make a qualitative (presence) rather than quantitative (amount) measurement.  This is why I say the only way to administer the ignition interlock law is to make it zero tolerance across the land.  No more drinking a glass of wine at dinner and driving home.

Also, what if the driver has “one for the road” but is .05 when he leaves the bar, but is .09 just before he hits and kills someone?  Is the interlock company going to be liable for this death or is the car manufacturer going to be liable?  After all, the car’s interlock told the driver he was ok to drive.  Otherwise, the driver will have to blow into the interlock every 15-30 minutes just be sure he’s not above the limit.

Then there is the increased cost.  When all of the auto manufacturers are going bankrupt or have other serious financial issues, is this really the time to require technology that will increase a vehicle’s cost?  And who is going to monitor the interlocks?  They will need to be calibrated from time to time, and this all costs money.  I’m old enough to remember the exhaust law we once had where each year you had to bring your car to the mechanic, pay fifteen bucks and have them “certify” that your car didn’t spew exhaust fumes.  This law was a monumental failure and was soon revoked.  Are we now going to have to take our cars each year to a state run facility and have our interlocks checked?

Finally, Michigan all ready has in place an ignition interlock law.  I’ve written about Michigan’s Super Drunk Law previously and talked about some of these issues in that article.

I hope that after reading this you will call your Congress man or woman and tell them to vote “no” on MADD’s new mad attempt to impose prohibition on all of us, and in so doing, increase the cost of our automobiles.  Are you up for the challenge?


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Debra Coffey July 10, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Ignition Interlocks are a tool to separate drinking from driving. Proper use eliminates false positives. The majority of interlock clients don’t have any issues with the use of their interlock device and are able to follow their interlock use requirements. Occasionally, we have clients who have failure issues and do not always follow the program instructions they were given. Our typical client base are individuals, who have had a DWI, spend time and money toward their defense, if unlucky, are sentenced, then told they have to go install an interlock, and guess what, “they have to pay for it”. They are not the most cooperative customers, they at times take their anger out on us, since they were unable to take their real anger out on the court, and they feel like they have been taken advantage of, we are the final step. The client with this mind set goes into the interlock experience uncooperative, looking for opportunities to say their interlock does not work.

In the past, The State of Michigan has not required interlocks to be Fuel Cell Devices; they have allowed semiconductor interlock devices, also known as Taguchi Cell, T-Cell or Sensor Cell. A T-Cell sensor is a simple silicon based product that has some level of alcohol specificity, the sensor cell is not specific to alcohol, it responds to other combustible gases and vapors. The sensor cell unit can fail from cigarette smoke, high acidity food products (pizza, Mexican food), high acidity fruits (oranges, lemon, lime), anything-containing alcohol (mouth wash, cough syrup, breath sprays), gasoline fumes, hair spray, perfumes, and colognes. It sounds like the offender with the windshield wiper issue, may have had a device using Sensor cell technology.

Fuel Cell, or devices specific to alcohol, will become the standard for all interlocks in Michigan, Oct 2010.

We agree that treatment is an important role in helping someone with alcohol issues; unfortunately, the right form of alcohol treatment is not always an available resource. While no technology is 100%, we firmly believe that interlock is a positive public safety tool to separate drinking from driving. We believe it is more productive for DWI offenders to remain in their community, stay licensed, insured and be able to work, go to school and attend alcohol treatment. Having an interlock installed on their car, allows them the flexibility to do all those things, and if perhaps, they drink and are unable to drive their car, no one is harmed, just inconvenienced.

Pat, I have a lot of respect for you and your opinions, I disagree with your assertion that Interlocks do not work. We would like to install one on your car for a few weeks. When are you available for an install? Our company only manufacturer’s Fuel cell devices. I know you will have a more respectful opinion of the technology if you would only try it.

Debra Coffey


ptbarone July 17, 2009 at 6:43 am

Hi Debra,

Thank you for your thoughtful and informative response. I hope that readers don’t interpret my opinion as being that interlocks don’t ever work. I have no doubt that interlocks work well the majority of the time, and I agree that interlocks serve a valuable function. For example I am much in favor of requiring interlocks for repeat offenders as an alternative to license revocation. As it stands now a repeat offender in Michigan is subject to lifetime license revocation. I’d much rather see repeat offenders allowed to continue driving after conviction with the requirement that they only drive an interlock equipped car. This would better protect society and would allow the repeat offender to stay employed. Otherwise, a repeat offender with a license revocation may find a way to drive a car with no interlock thereby creating the potential for the most dangerous combination. However, I am adamantly opposed to any requirement that ALL drivers be subjected to laws requiring interlocks. I believe this is unworkable for many of the reasons stated in my article.

I will be happy to try out an interlock device, I just need to be sure my clients and colleagues who might see me use it know it’s not court ordered!


mary ann July 26, 2009 at 4:51 pm

my dad was convicted of dwi in 1988 and lost licence his for 10 years and has never recived his he is elegible and done everything possible to get it back and was told that there was a new law stating that an interlock would have to be installed in his vehicle yet he dont need.I would like to know if this is a retro law.


ptbarone July 31, 2009 at 11:16 am

He will be required to have an ignition interlock on his vehicle. The only other option is full restoration, which can happen, but happens rarely. If full restoration was accomplised, then there would be no interlock.


JohnH. August 19, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Thank you for this most informative article. I spent yesterday with my AA sponsee at the Secretary of State supporting him as he petitioned for reinstatement of his license after a 2nd DUI (now with 18 months of sobriety!). As an active member of AA, I see many people come to meetings per Court order after a 1st or 2nd DUI. Luckily, that gets a few, maybe even half, to choose sobriety. I tend to think the interlock program, as it stands, is probably the best situation to keep people working (and going to meetings/therapy to address their issues) and to deter drinking and driving. I am concerned, however, with the cost. People who have received a DUI can expect to pay $1,000 in fines…approx. $3,000 in attorney fees, $300 in court ordered counseling…$1,000 ($2,000 2nd offense) in responsibility fees and the final salt to the wound, $125 reinstatement fees for the license (double dipping, imho, they’ve already paid twice in fines and ‘responsibility’ fees). We can’t forget the increase in insurance rates after jacking up the points on their license. Do they deserve to pay for their actions? Absolutely! However, given the poverty rates in this state…I can’t tell you how many people come in to the program and either can’t get to work and lose their job, or get cited for driving on a suspended because they couldn’t pay fines and feed their families. This roller coaster of driving on suspended, additional fines, continued loss of driving privileges continues ad nauseum for many. Who suffers here? The family, the children particularly, and they are the last who should pay for their fathers sins, so to speak. My sponsee was one who got to this point, paying everything, managing rides, and keeping his job…only to get hit with a $100 per month on top of all he has already paid. His family continues to suffer while the state rakes in the money. Then maybe the spouse leaves with the kids, now our alcoholic has child support on top of it all, which he can’t pay since he can’t work steadily…spouse goes on State aid for income, food and insurance. I can’t tell you how common this scenario is, I can’t help believe there isn’t a better way, that may include the interlock system for those who have had DUI offences.

The thought of this going national to EVERY driver just terrifies me, particularly in this economy where people are already having issues keeping a roof over their head. I suggest you contact your State representative and remind them this isn’t a perfect situation by any means, and that thought has to be given to the domino affect, rather than just the issue at hand.

Don’t get me wrong, I strongly agree that the interlock has it’s place in this scenario…but aren’t there other options? A portable, hand-held system that would just alert the authorities that one is consuming alcohol during restricted times? That would appear to be less costly, and as long as we’re keeping repeat offenders off the road, why not just restrict their drinking generally during a specific period, as they obviously have some issues with poor judgement as it relates to alcohol.

Again, I don’t have the answer, but maybe if other people thought about it and made suggestions to the powers that be, they would! Let’s get a little less passive about issues that matter, rather than complaining no one else has come up with something better.


carolyn September 16, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Don’t kid yourself people those interlocks are an inconvience at most. My husband got a DWI he just put the interlock on an old car and takes it to the interlock place once a month besides that he never drives that car. He drives his new car. Don’t get me wrong I think drinking and driving is wrong but the only way to stop it is to make alcohol illegal and even then you always have your rebels. As a trauma nurse I can tell you that people die more from driving and talking on the cell phone than from drunk driving. You can always find a fight out there. Don’t waste your time hitting your head against a wall. Alcoholics don’t give a shit. They don’t think thats why they drink they don’t want to think. If a person is drinking and driving put them in jail quit with the f-ing interlocks, the fines and the classes they don’t work. My husband pays the fines no sweat off his back he’s loaded and the classes he said were a joke. DWI two comes a long and basically the fines get bigger and the interlock is on the car for another year big deal he doesn’t drive it anyway. Put them in jail. Your not helping my husband or any other alcoholic by making them pad the city’s pocket. Let them sit in jail and get them alcohol counseling while behind bars that helps the alocholic and it will keep them off the road. Better yet make alcohol illegal.


mom September 29, 2009 at 2:57 pm

You will never make alcohol illegal because the states make money off it.Did you ever look up “Get Mad” on the net and see what the people at Madd get paid. Its all money and does not to help anyone.I believe people should try AA as I know it can work and the courts should get them there.That interlock is a joke as anyone could set beside you and blow into it. I don’t drink at all but I have seen family fall apart and end up on welfare because they can’t drive to work.Most people arn’t drunk at .08 and get in more trouble the a sex offender. This I don’t understand


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