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Uncooperative Cars and Drunken Drivers

There are a number of ways to avoid driving when drunk; handing the keys over to a designated driver, not drinking in the first place, or realising when you are likely to be over the limit. However, these depend on a number of factors and can also be harder achieve than we may think. After a few drinks, unfortunately, our confidence levels rise, our inhibitions fall away and our willingness to take risks can increase. This means that alcohol combined with good intentions is not a good plan and for many reasons we break our promises to ourselves, getting behind the wheel when drunk. Unfortunately the results can be devastating with a high number of accidents in the US stemming from those under the influence of alcohol. Fatalities are particularly high in drink driving cases and although this may be the worst case scenario there are other serious consequences. For those convicted of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offences it can mean a lost licence or a restricted licence. For those with more serious issues with alcohol consumption, regaining a licence can be difficult and finding ways to ensure you stay within the law if you have had a restriction placed on your licence is crucial. More technological ways in which to ensure that you don’t drink and drive include a home breathalyzer kit (will power still required) and the Ignition Interlock device (IID). These devices are attached to the ignition of your car to disable it from starting if your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is too high. IIDs are rapidly spreading in use across the US as many states make them mandatory for DUI offences.

State Variations and Interlock Devices

In 2004 the US Federal government introduced laws that require the use of Interlock devices for repeat offenders. The regulations allow the federal authorities to retain three per cent of the funds designated for individual state’s highways budgets, should the state to enforce these regulations. As a result all states now impose the use of an IID as part of their sentencing for DUI convictions, in the case of repeat offenders. Fifteen states also impose the use of interlock devices for first time offenders and other states require them for a range of different types of DUI offences, while some states (Texas and Oklahoma) require them when excessive levels of alcohol are found to be present in a DUI case.

Operation of Ignition Interlock Devices

The IID is mounted on the vehicle’s dashboard and connected to the ignition. The car can only be started once a breath sample has been provided. Once the car has been started it will continue to run but at random intervals further tests will be required. Some devices can be calibrated to recognise long periods of ‘idling’ i.e. prevent users from leaving a car running while accidentally popping into the nearest bar. Random tests are required, in part, to prevent a person other than the driver providing the sample; the interlock device cannot cut the engine once it is running (this would cause serious safety issues) but will log each subsequent test and also may provide an unsubtle alert such as flashing lights, or repeated signalling with the horn, until the vehicle has been stopped. Before starting up another test will be required.

Provision of Ignition Interlock Devices

Regulations require Interlock devices to be recalibrated at certain intervals; this means a device is not an item that you can order online and fit for yourself. Recalibration periods vary from state to state, depending on relevant local legislation. The minimum is thirty days but sixty or ninety are also common. When choosing a device you’ll need to ensure that it is compliant with your own state’s laws and that the device can be fitted at a local service centre (some suppliers have a national network of centres able to fit the devices). In terms of recalibration various suppliers offer a number of simple options with some offering exchange of a newly calibrated unit by post (which the user can fit themselves) or, where state law requires, this can be done at a local service centre to comply with the regulations.

Safety Measures for Families

While some states may require an interlock device fitted after an alcohol related driving offence other individuals may find them useful. Families with teenage kids are increasingly finding that loaning out the family car to the kids and/or friends with an interlock device included can offer an additional safeguard to keep the vehicle (and more importantly the teenagers) in a safe and legal condition.

Jeremy is a freelance writer who is interested in promoting safe driving. Here he looks at the use of Ignition Interlock Devices in the US.   

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