Thursday, January 10, 2008

Features will make it difficult for drunk drivers to get around ignition interlock

Leah Marx is the only person in Hawaii who must submit to an alcohol breath test before starting up her car. If she blows higher blood alcohol content than the preset limit, her car won't start.

No. Marx has not had any DUIs. In fact, she is the Executive Director of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), and she is testing the capabilities of an alcohol ignition interlock system that controls a car's ignition and won't start if the driver is intoxicated.

Hawaii lawmakers are now examining the feasibility of requiring DUI offenders to install these devices into their cars, as called for by a resolution introduced by Rep. Joseph M. Souki (D8-Wailuku, Waihee, Waiehu, Puuohala, Waikapu). Hawaii is one of five states that does not already use interlocks as DUI mandatory sentencing, and in 2006 was the worst in the nation in percent of alcohol-related traffic deaths.

While listening to FM 93.9 on my way to work today, I caught a discussion between the morning show hosts regarding ignition interlocks, and two of them were in favor of a new regulation -- one even suggested adding electric shock components to the seat to punish offenders who fail tests. However, Gregg Hammer wasn't convinced that the interlock could keep offenders from cheating the system. People can get around them, he said. Sober friends of offenders could blow into the device for them.

He's right. That could happen. But there are several anti-circumventing features that make it less likely for an offender to cheat the test.

  • Frequent retests are administered throughout the duration of the the drive. The first retest occurs 2 minutes after the starts. Offenders have around 6 minutes to pull over and take the test. Another test may occur around 45 minutes later.
  • A camera above the dashboard automatically snaps a photo when a test is taken.
    The device is not easily administered. It requires specific training and may be difficult for an intoxicated person to explain.
  • Results of tests are monitored by vendors and reported to the state. Experts recommend appointing state monitors to offenders, much like a probation officer, in order to address failed tests, cheating attempts and alcohol-abuse.

Offenders will pay $70-$150 for installation and $75 a month. In most states, lawmakers set up funds with specific criteria to aid those unable to pay.

Photo: Provided by Smart Start, Inc.

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