Can vehicle ignition interlocks solve the DWI problem?

DWIMothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), on November 1, 2011, announced that it is urging the passage of the ROADS SAFE ACT (HR 2324/S 510) which would provide sixty million dollars in federal funding to finance the advanced alcohol detection research program known as DADDS. This technology is most commonly known as an “Ignition Interlock Device” or “IID.” These devices prevent the operation of a motor vehicle until the driver passes a blood alcohol test.

Anyone who is familiar with current IID technology will know that these gadgets are somewhat expensive, finicky, maintenance intensive and rather demeaning for drivers who are required to blow, hum and suck them repeatedly to start and continue to drive their cars. It is the sort of requirement that no one would ever tolerate unless they had no other choice. You can get a feel for how they work in this short video: Ignition Interlock Demo

So far, in Missouri, only repeat alcohol offenders are required to install the IID before they can get their licenses reinstated (after a long mandatory period when they are not allowed to drive at all). The IID must then be maintained for six months following the reinstatement date, and the driver is required to report to a certified IID vendor every month for maintenance to ensure the device is working properly.

MADD has a short term and a long term agenda. In the short term they want every legislature to force first-time DWI offenders to install the IID. In the long term (after the MADD ladies finish with the first-time offenders) they are coming after you and me, whether we drink and drive or not.

The purpose of the proposed federal sixty million dollar research program is to perfect a way to test the blood alcohol level of all drivers (not just drinkers), ideally without any need for their consent or cooperation. Understandably, researchers are looking for an involuntary test method to force compliance from the many drivers who do not esteem such nanny state initiatives.

Technologies being investigated include mounting cameras in cars to record and analyze a driver’s eye movements. Sensors may also be able to detect alcohol from air samples taken from the passenger compartment; or detect alcohol through a driver’s skin touching the steering wheel. They also discuss the possibility of requiring the driver to wear an arm or leg bracelet similar to those worn by criminal defendant’s under house arrest. Good luck with that idea. I can’t wait.

If the MADD ladies want an idea that really could save lives (without harassing the rest of us), here’s one:

Everybody now knows that if you get a DWI, you lose your license for anywhere between 30 days and ten years (or more). Supposedly, these license revocations are not to punish a DWI, but rather to safeguard the public. Punishment is a separate issue addressed by the criminal courts, not the license bureau.

Too often we read stories of drunk drivers who have an accident and hurt someone and it turns out that they were also driving while revoked. In those case, the license revocation or suspension did nothing to safeguard the public. It is hardly surprising to learn that many DWI offenders refuse to obey license revocations and drive anyway, especially when it means keeping a job and feeding their families.

If the ignition interlock device really is effective in stopping people from driving drunk, then the legislature already possesses the key to the problem. They would not even need to force people to use the IID. They could simply give the option of replacing the license revocation or suspension with the IID installation. Most defendants would take that deal if it meant they could keep driving. And then, even if they did drink, they would unable to harm anyone.

It’s not good enough to add the IID months or years after the offense occurs. It needs to be immediate to take away the temptation to drink and drive. Some may object because the state is not getting its “pound of flesh” from the offender, but any reasonable public policy will put public safety ahead of vengeance. It’s not often that the public good is best served by giving the bad guy a break, but this may be one of those times.


Come back with a warrant

I’m stopped for a DWI. Do I blow into the breathalyzer?

Let’s pretend it’s a clear starry Saturday morning, 1:00 a.m and the cop lights me up and pulls me over. He says I crossed the centerline. I did?

He asks for license and insurance and smells what he will describe in his report as an “odor of intoxicants” emanating from me.

It’s all downhill from there: the one-legged stand test, the walk-and-turn, the gaze test. Then come the handcuffs and a ride in the back seat to the sheriff’s office, where the cop reads some stuff from some form. He says:

  • “You are under arrest for driving while intoxicated.”
  • “To determine the alcohol content of your blood, I am requesting you submit to a chemical test of your breath (or maybe blood). If you refuse to take the test, your driver license will immediately be revoked for one year.”
  • “Evidence of your refusal to take the test may be used against you in prosecution in a court of law. Having been informed of the reasons for requesting the test, will you take the test?

So . . . should I blow?

If I say NO, I lose my license for a year.

If I say YES, I provide additional evidence to be used against me in court.

There are some other things I should think about:

A first offense DWI may result in a 30/90 day license suspension, but a repeat offense (or one involving injury or death) will likely cause a license revocation of a year or more. Considering that the punishment for anything more serious than a first offense DWI is probably jail or prison, and a year or more revocation, I might feel there is not much to lose by refusing the breathe test. So I think to myself . . .

  • Now if I just had a beer or two, I might want to blow if am confident that my blood level is below .080%. It would prove me innocent.
  • But in a close case it could be just enough for the state to make the case against me.
  • If I am really drunk, however, it probably doesn’t much matter whether I blow or not. They’ve got me good and nothing will change it. Most prosecutors will just argue that I was so drunk that I knew the breath test would convict me. They would be right and the jury would probably agree with them.

Now there is one thing the police won’t tell me: the law gives me twenty minutes in which to try to contact an attorney. At the end of the twenty minutes, I must take the breath test or lose my license for the year.

So with that additional 20 minutes I can try to get some advice. If I can’t reach a lawyer, I still have 20 more minutes to think about taking the test. Of course, after a few beers, my thinking is not as good as it could be, but on the bright side, 20 minutes is long enough to lower my blood alcohol from .084% to .079%. That might help.

One final thing to consider is that–if I refuse to blow–the police may to wake up a prosecutor and a judge to get a search warrant, so they get the blood sample anyway. Or they just take the blood without consent or a warrant and hope it holds up in court. If that happens I am triple screwed.

  1. I refused to blow, so I lose my license for a year,
  2. I look guiltier because I tried to hide my alcohol level; and
  3. They got the blood alcohol evidence anyway. (Sure didn’t see that one coming, Ouch!)

As you can see, it’s very hard to know whether taking or refusing the test will hurt or help your case. Sometimes you won’t know until it’s too late.

If you can reach an attorney during your twenty minutes (good luck on that), he or she can help you decide. Don’t rely on this post because it is too short to address all the issues involved. If you want to call me, my number is in the book. Or just avoid the whole thing and have somebody else drive you home.

PS: Some folks will try anything: