An Ignition Interlock Does its Job, Maybe Saves a Life in Maryland

ignition interlock prevented kelly loos from driving
(Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office)

Last Year Kelli Loos blew into her alcohol-sniffing ignition interlock device and an alarm sounded:  a failed test. The device is designed to tell if a driver has been drinking. At the time Loos was out on parole for a 2009 drunken-driving crash in which she killed two people.

Maryland authorities monitor ignition interlock data. The log from that failed alcohol test went to the Maryland MVA and the Department of Parole and Probation. From there, the courts took over and Loos was jailed.

Her fate is still uncertain – prosecutors want her back in prison, and her defense attorneys want her in a treatment program – but there’s a larger point here: Loos was prevented from drinking and driving that day because her ignition interlock was a condition of her parole.

How an ignition interlock protected the public

When Loos breathed into the device, the fuel cell in it detected alcohol, which triggered a circuit that shut off the starter. Had she been able to drive while impaired, things might have ended differently – as they did for Gradys Mendoza and Franklin Manzanares. The two men were driving a pickup truck when Loos plowed into them and sent them down a 60-foot embankment, killing them.

In some states legislators are discussing other methods of dealing with drunk driving, such as 24/7 alcohol monitoring, in which an offender has his or her breath alcohol tested twice a day. But had Loos been in that kind of a program, she could have passed her test, then gone home, drunk alcohol, and started to drive.

True, she might have been jailed the next day if she failed her test, but that might have been too late.

On the other hand, the ignition interlock did what it was designed to do, and what other kinds of alcohol monitoring cannot: it prevented her from driving drunk.

Ignition interlock devices have been in the news lately in Maryland. Legislators are considering Noah’s Law, which would make all DUI offenses – including first offenses – require an ignition interlock installation.  At present 25 states have such all-offender ignition interlock laws. The law is named for Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta, who was killed by a drunk driver last December.

This case is a vivid demonstration of how ignition interlocks – and only ignition interlocks – prevent drunk driving offenders from endangering innocent people on the road, while allowing them to work, seek treatment, and put their lives back together.

It’s important that legislators don’t weaken ignition interlock laws – they’re the public’s last defense from an intoxicated person who gets behind the wheel  and turns the key.