Iowa is Putting Cameras on Ignition Interlocks. Here’s Why That’s Good.

Ignition Interlock CameraIgnition interlocks – car breathalyzer devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – have been part of Iowa’s anti-drunk driving arsenal for more than two decades. The requirement, for repeat drunk drivers and some first offenders, has helped lower the rate of alcohol-related road fatalities in the state. A new regulation will place cameras on ignition interlocks for added security.

How Interlock Cameras Protect the Public

Cameras on ignition interlocks are nothing new. They are used in many jurisdictions around the country because some determined drunk drivers are able to persuade a sober person to breathe into the device. The cameras ensure that the one ordered to use the interlock – the driver – is the one who is breathing into it.

Interlock Data Monitoring – The Vital Link

Many people are not aware of how a well-designed interlock program works. These are the steps:

  1. The ignition interlock is installed on an offender’s vehicle. He or she must breathe into the device to start the vehicle, and must take tests periodically while driving to ensure that no alcohol has been drunk afterwards.
  2. A camera photographs the driver taking the test. The photo and the test are time-coded.
  3. If the driver has been drinking, the vehicle won’t start. Several tries are usually allowed, each with a longer waiting period. After a set number of fails, the vehicle is disabled and the device must be reset.
  4. Data from the interlock device, including passes, fails, driving times and the photos, are downloaded and checked by monitoring authorities periodically (usually once a month).
  5. If fails or tampering is detected, the offender can be arrested. Asking another person to use the interlock is a form of tampering, and is a misdemeanor in Iowa, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000

Why Interlocks Work

Some people think that interlocks are too easy to circumvent, precisely because of the the possibility that a misguided friend could be called in to take the test. But

lifesafer l250 interlock device with camera
Ignition interlock & camera

the vast majority of interlock users comply with the requirements and get through their interlock period with no problems. Think about it – would you help a friend drive drunk and risk arrest – or a crash – yourself?

Iowa will start putting cameras on ignition interlocks in July. Unlike many such improvements in a system, the expense will be minimal, as the offender pays for the camera. The camera poses no extra burden on the taxpayer, and apart from a small fee, none on the offender, who takes his or her breath test as usual. But the result is better compliance, and fewer drunk drivers on the road.

Hats off to the Iowa Transportation Department for this long-overdue improvement to the state’s ignition interlock program. It’s going to save lives.