The Hows and Whys of Ignition Interlock Systems

The latest and most sophisticated tool in law enforcement’s arsenal to lower drunk driving statistics is the United States is the ignition interlock system. It is actually a fairly small device – often not larger than the first cell phones and it attaches to the dashboard of a vehicle. When a driver gets into the car he or she must blow into the system which then analyzes the blood alcohol content level of his or her breath. The thing to remember here is just that – it does not give an actual reading of the amount of alcohol in the individual’s bloodstream. The only way to do that is to actually draw a person’s blood. If the reading on the machine is higher than a level that has been predetermined – such as 0.02 – then the person is prevented from driving because the vehicle will not start.

The interesting – and perhaps little known – thing about ignition interlock systems is that they require the driver to blow into the device on more than one occasion while they are in the act of driving the vehicle. The reason for this is two-fold. First, it ensures that the vehicle was not started by another individual and then the drunk driver got behind the wheel (it is difficult to fathom that someone would do that!) and it ensures that the driver remains sober enough to continue motoring down the highway. If at any point the reading is higher than allowed the car or truck will begin ‘acting up’ or do things that will call attention to itself such as automatically honking the horn and flashing the lights. The purpose of this is to attract the attention of law enforcement as well as other drivers – informing them that a potential drunk driver is on the road.

It should come as no surprise that legislators (in general), law enforcement and avid anti-drunk driving groups aggressively support the use of these instruments and many vociferously advocate for their installation in every vehicle in the country. Many civil rights groups feel this move may be too extreme and even unnecessary – and that it would needlessly foist additional costs on an already overburdened populace. The other side argues back that the additional costs are justified – if the end result is a reduction or total elimination of drunk driving injuries and fatalities.

However, people are generally unaware of the number of problems that one encounters when using a breathalyzer. Besides the fact that it can give a false reading – it may also malfunction for any number of reasons. For instance, breathalyzers are sensitive to light and heat and must be calibrated regularly – by a person who has been trained to do so.

Needless to say, vehicle manufacturers and vehicle purchasers could both face a host of potential problems if the technology was defective. Too, the fact that the device also requires the driver to blow into it throughout the driving ‘operation’ – this most certainly complicates the entire process making it impractical at best – and perhaps even unsafe.