My Ignition Interlock Requires a Test
While Driving – Is that Dangerous?

If you’re unfamiliar with ignition interlock devices — those car breathalyzers that prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking — you might think that they’re easy to bypass. “Just have a friend blow into it,” people say. “Or start the car while you’re sober, and then leave the motor running while you’re at the bar drinking. What could be easier?”

In fact, interlock manufacturers have developed technologies that make it very difficult, Lifesafer ignition interlock rolling re-tetif not impossible, to bypass an ignition interlock and drive drunk.

One such technology is the rolling retest. After you have passed the initial test and have been driving a few minutes, the device will require you to blow into it again.  If you fail or refuse this rolling re-test, alarms will sound — the horn will honk and lights flash, forcing you to pull over. This re-test is required periodically in order to prevent scenarios like the one described above. “Curb service” — having a sober friend “assist” you by blowing into the interlock — is no longer feasible.

Sometimes drivers are concerned that the rolling re-test is dangerous or distracting. In fact, it’s perfectly safe when done correctly.

When your interlock signals for a re-test, you have a certain number of minutes to pull over to a curb or shoulder and blow into the device.

If pulling over is not possible, you can still take the test while driving — it’s not distracting at all. On a well-designed ignition interlock, the rolling re-test uses audio only. The interlock emits a tone to signal that you should blow into the device. A different tone signifies that you have passed the test. There is never a need to take your eyes off the road.

Not only is a re-test not dangerous, it’s one of the most important safety devices on your car. It ensures that you can keep on driving, in compliance with the law, unimpaired and safe from harm.

Courthouse Sting Reveals Sad Truth:
License Suspensions Don’t Work

Do drivers charged with DUI take their license suspension seriously? On a Monday not long ago, police in Indio, California decided to find out.

Many DUI offenders drive on a suspended licenseThey followed a dozen people out of the courthouse. All had been ordered by the judge not to drive.

The police found that eight of the twelve arranged to get back home legally. But the other four offenders got into their cars and drove away, just minutes after their licenses had been withdrawn. Two arrests were made.

The Sheriff’s report states that stakeout operations like this act as a deterrent with the goal of “keeping impaired and unlicensed drivers from the road” and heightening awareness of impaired driving.

No one should be surprised by the results of this operation. If anything, the number of drivers defying the suspension was on the low side. Studies show that over half — by some estimates, 75% — of DUI offenders continue to drive even with their license suspended.

The operation highlights the disdain with which many people treat license suspensions.

What to do about it?

If license suspensions don’t keep people from driving, then they certainly won’t keep people from drinking and driving. The answer is to order the installation of ignition interlocks in the vehicles of all drunk driving offenders. Ignition interlocks are devices that prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Many states already mandate interlocks for first DUI offenses, and they have reductions in road deaths to show for it. Many more states are contemplating all-offender ignition interlock laws; there is even a federal law in the offing.

Is there a workable alternative to ignition interlocks? As we have seen, suspensions don’t work. Rehabilitation and counseling programs can be helpful, but they don’t ensure public safety. Only an interlock, properly installed and monitored, does that.

Why David Cassidy Just Doesn’t Get It

Last week 1970s pop and TV star David Cassidy completed his plea deal for his DWI felony charge in New York.

Cassidy admitted to driving while intoxicated in the town of Schodack, New York. He appeared to be frustrated with the court’s requirements, which now include an alcohol screening. He just wanted to get things “taken care of and over with.” In his defense, Cassidy said:

“I admit I was driving drunk, but this was my first offense in New York state; I didn’t hurt anyone or crash my car.”

That’s all true. But Cassidy’s “no harm, no foul” attitude doesn’t wash. He might feel that because no one was injured this time, he should be let off with a wrist slap. But the law has been dealing with drunk drivers for a long time, and New York has been addressing it more actively than most states.David Cassidy by Allan Warren is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Let’s ignore the fact that Cassidy has, in fact, three drunk-driving arrests under his belt. What’s important is his implication that a “first offense” for New York State deserves light treatment.

We know that by the time a drunk driver is arrested, he or she has usually driven impaired an average of 80 times. A “first offense” is very often a lucky intervention for a serial drunk driver. That is why New York, like many states, mandates ignition interlocks for first DWI offenses. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a car from starting when the driver has been drinking. License suspensions are not effective in getting impaired drivers off the road; at least half of offenders with suspended licenses continue to drive. Only ignition interlocks remove alcohol from the equation.

Cassidy went on to state that the publicity has hurt his career. That’s unfortunate, but drunk driving is a serious crime, and instead of complaining about the publicity, Cassidy should be grateful that he was stopped before he hurt himself or someone else on the road.

Embarrassing Revelations Prove It’s Time For
Mandatory Ignition Interlocks in Pennsylvania

A recent article in the Philadelphia Enquirer highlights some embarrassing facts about DUI enforcement in Pennsylvania. Among the paper’s findings: state laws coddle drunk drivers, and enforcement gaps have created a revolving door that lets them get back behind the wheel without consequences. As a result, about half of convicted drunk drivers are repeat offenders.

Pennsylvania Needs to Pass better ignition interlock lawsWhat has caused this sad state of affairs?

  • Inadequate ignition interlock laws. Unlike many states — about half of the country at this point — Pennsylvania does not require that every convicted drunk driver install an ignition interlock. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a car from starting when the driver has been drinking. Statistics show that mandatory ignition interlocks for first-time DUI convictions keep drunk drivers off the road and reduce crashes.
  • No immediate license suspension. Another, even more surprising gap in Pennsylvania’s DUI laws: drivers who fail a breath test do not have their license suspended immediately. This practice, called administrative suspension, is almost universal in the USA. Most states have concluded that anyone failing a breath test is by definition a hazard on the roads, and has broken the implicit sobriety agreement made when one accepts a driver’s license. Pennsylvania seems reluctant to take this logical step, and prefers to keep intoxicated people in the driver’s seat.
  • Light punishments. Then there is the reluctance to impose prison sentences. Pennsylvania does not jail impaired drivers unless their level of intoxication is very high – a blood alcohol concentration of .15 percent. In many other states drivers face possible imprisonment when their breath test registers .08, the standard level that indicates impairment.
  • Loopholes. One is not likely to get to a conviction anyway. Pennsylvania’s DUI laws contain a generous supply of loopholes for defense attorneys to exploit, so many cases are dismissed.
  • Lax treatment of no-shows. Many people arrested for DUI simply ignore their summonses and do not appear in court. In Philadelphia, most notably, there is not enough manpower to go after all of these scofflaws, and as a result, drunk drivers get back behind the wheel.

This coddling of impaired drivers has led precisely where one would expect: more repeat offenders. The Enquirer’s own calculations, based on figures from NHTSA and PennDOT, are that half of all convicted drunk drivers in the state are repeat offenders. Nationwide, the figure is one in four.

Pennsylvania needs to get serious about its drunk driving problem. Legislators should first address the steps that are proven to save lives:

  • Immediate license suspension after a failed or refused breath test, and
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on the vehicle of any driver convicted of DUI, including a first offense

Enforcement issues must be dealt with too, if Pennsylvania’s roads are to become safer anytime soon. But strong laws are key, and it’s up to Pennsylvania’s concerned citizens to demand the drunk driving legislation they deserve.

Your Hump Day Recess:
Top 10 Worst Crash Tests

The VW bus (really a truck) at 5:45 is the most frightening thing we’ve seen in a long while.

Once again, hats off to the designers of safer cars. Please drive carefully, and drive sober. And if a Holden Commodore turns up on Craigslist, pass it by!

Your Hump Day Recess: Every Wednesday LifeSafer brings you something a little different, related to the worlds of road safety, to ease your progress over Hump Day and through the week.

Previous Hump Days: car safety, animals, posters. traffic jams, more posters, fake microbrews a German Ignition Interlock spoof from 1960, and a Star Wars anti-drunk driving message.

Is An Ignition Interlock Really a Punishment?

You sometimes hear people say that the ignition interlock in their car is a “punishment” for a DUI conviction. They consider the device part of the DUI package: a fine, a stay in jail, perhaps an impounded vehicle, and now an ignition interlock device, or IID,  to install and learn to use.

Ignition Interlock DeviceTo many drivers, having to blow into the device every time they drive feels like a punishment.

But in fact, the purpose of an ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, is not to punish. The device has one purpose only: to prevent alcohol-related road accidents. It treats all drivers of a vehicle equally, demanding that they breathe into a mouthpiece for a few seconds before starting the engine.

Why use an interlock at all? Why not just punish offenders instead? Research has shown that impaired drivers are hard to keep off the road. License suspensions don’t work – 50% to 70% of drivers continue to drive on a suspended license – and while educational campaigns do help, they only work on people who are ready to receive the message that you shouldn’t drink and drive.

Some An ignition interlock is a safety device that keeps you on the roadpeople aren’t ready to take that message to heart, and instead choose to drink and drive. The law considers that choice serious enough to merit immediate action.

Ignition interlocks have been found to be the solution.  As long as the device is on the car, the choice to drink and drive – always a bad choice – is removed.

Most people get used to the interlock quickly. The procedure of testing and doing rolling re-tests is not hard to learn. It becomes an automatic task like fastening seat belts.

And like a seat belt, an ignition interlock is not a punishment – it’s a safety device. If you’ve been convicted of drunk driving, it’s the best friend you have, because it allows you to keep driving, working, going to school, and otherwise lead a normal life, while keeping you and everyone else on the road safe.

Just How Accurate is an
Ignition Interlock Anyway?

Tens of thousands of drivers across the country are using ignition interlocks to fulfill their court or DMV requirements. An ignition interlock is a device that prevent a car from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Some people worry that interlocks aren’t accurate — that their vehicle will fail to start even if they haven’t been drinking.ignition-interlock-accurate

There is no need to worry. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has established standards for all ignition interlock devices to ensure that they are accurate and reliable. Independent laboratories test every interlock device to ensure they meet NHTSA’s strict requirements.

The testing doesn’t stop there. Drivers using an interlock are required to bring in their vehicles at regular intervals for calibration. The interlocks are tested using an alcohol solution of a known concentration, to make sure that the device registers the amount of alcohol correctly. The solution is monitored and checked regularly by government authorities to make sure that the calibration is being done correctly.

If needed, adjustments are made so that the interlock is giving an accurate picture of the blood FC100alcohol concentration (BAC) of the driver at all times.

If you are required to install an ignition interlock, today’s alcohol-specific fuel cell ignition interlock technology — the most accurate technology available — is working to help keep you on the road. All you need to do is remember not to drink before driving, and you’ll be on your way.

Wisconsin Got DUIs Right 90 Years Ago. Why Can’t They Get It Right Now?

Recently the Wisconsin State Journal reprinted Penrose-Car-Accident
a 90-year-old editorial on car safety, and in doing so, illuminated a time when life and motoring were different.

The editorial reminds us that the driver is “an engineer, fully responsible” — not an exaggeration, considering how mechanical you had to be to keep your Maxwell or Hupmobile going in 1924. Other worthwhile pieces of advice:

  • Inspect your brakes at least once a month
  • Sound horns three times when backing

But the most revealing part of the editorial concerns drunk driving, which was already a worry back in the 1920s.

…the necessity for sobriety still needs to be impressed on those drivers who have not yet learned their lesson. The Pennsylvania state highway department last week revoked the licenses of a number of persons found guilty of operating machines while intoxicated. This is mild punishment indeed.

The general opinion will be that the offenders “got off easy.” … A stiffer penalty than revocation of licenses seems to be demanded as a deterrent.

In the 21st Century, license revocation is still considered a fitting penalty for drunk driving, even though we know that most people with revoked licenses continue to drive, and drive while impaired. The fact that Wisconsin is the only state in the union in which a first OWI offense is not a crime suggests that the wise and well-intentioned people who wrote this editorial in 1924 were not heeded.

It’s time Wisconsin got tough by extending its ignition interlock laws to cover first-time OWI offenders with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over .08, and not just over .15.

90 years is enough time to figure out that the alternative isn’t working.

Infographic: Why Drinking and Driving in
New York is Your Worst Idea Yet

There is no good place to drink and drive in the USA, but some places are harder on drunk driving than others, and New York might be toughest of all, thanks to recent legislation.

This free infographic outlines drunk driving penalties in New York. Note that in addition to the .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) standard for DWI, you can be cited for DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired) with a BAC of just .05. Ignition Interlocks, sometimes called car breathalyzers, are now mandatory for all convictions in the Empire State. The devices are installed on an offender’s vehicle and prevent it from starting if the driver has been drinking.

As you can see, drunk driving in New York leaves no way out: every path leads to fines, prison, lost license, and a police record. What more can we put in there to convince you that it’s a bad idea?

Free Infographic - Drunk Driving penalties in New York - DWI

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Can a Back Seat Driver Get a DUI?
It Just Happened in Virginia

We think of a drunk driver as someone in the driver’s seat, impaired beyond the ability to control a car. But a passenger can be convicted of DUI as well.

grabbing the steering wheel can result in a DUIBrandi Snow Williams of Moneta, Virginia was drunk in the back seat of a car when she began making attempts to grab the steering wheel. Eventually she succeeded, causing the car to veer off the road. She and four others were injured; one of the passengers’ injuries were life-threatening.

Ms Williams just pled guilty to DUI.

At the time, she acknowledged that she was intoxicated, but did not think that she could be charged, since she was a passenger. The grand jury through otherwise.

The moral: if you’re in control of a car, you had better be sober. Even if you’re a back seat driver.

Courts around the country are using their powers to fight drunk driving however they can. Physical Control is the idea that someone who is impaired and in control of a vehicle – even one that is parked – poses a danger and is thus guilty of a crime. Drinkers who have crawled into their cars to sleep, rather than drive home, have been charged with DUI, even though their keys were in their pockets. The laws are designed for impaired drivers who clearly intend to drive but don’t get the chance because they fall asleep or are caught.

This was a much clearer case of an impaired person being in physical control of the car. Ms. Williams had the wheel, and caused the accident.

A reminder if — it’s really needed — that if you’re drunk, don’t drive. Don’t even grab the wheel.