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A Judge Requires You To Get An Ignition Interlock Device After A DUI. Now What?

By Aaron Crowe

Getting busted for driving under the influence of alcohol can result in thousands of dollars in fines, jail time, probation, attending alcohol treatment meetings, and having a driver’s license suspended.

There’s one small bright spot for drivers convicted of DUI who want to drive again: Every state allows ignition interlock devices as sentencing alternatives.

If you can blow an alcohol-free breath into the IID, you can have a restricted driver’s license. You may need to pull over a few times and blow into the device (or do it while driving), and you’ll have to pay a fee for the device, but you’ll still be able to drive to work and continue earning a living.

Do IIDs help keep drunken drivers off the road? Yes, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which cites statistics from the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety that IIDs, when combined with a comprehensive monitoring and service program, lead to a 40% to 95% reduction in the rate of repeat drunk driving offenses among offenders as long as the device remains on the vehicle.

“It seems to work,” says Christopher J. McCann, a criminal defense attorney in Southern California who represents DUI defendants. “The idea is good. The technology is good.”

“It absolutely should keep drunk drivers off the road,” McCann says.

How IIDs work

Like a breathalyzer, an IID is a little bigger than a cellphone and is installed on the car’s dashboard. Before the motor can be started, the driver must exhale into it. If alcohol is measured — sometimes as low as 0.01% because any alcohol can be illegal to drive with — then the engine won’t start until a clean breath sample is provided.

After the engine has started, another breath sample will be required at random intervals. If a sample isn’t then provided in time or alcohol is blown, then the device will log it and an alarm such as a honking horn will sound until the engine is turned off. IIDs don’t automatically turn an engine off if alcohol is detected.

In California, for example, the devices must be checked by the device provider every 60 days, when a positive test will be reported to the DMV. A 0.03% alcohol level will trigger a positive test in California, McCann says.

The machines cost $75 or so per month to rent, and from $25 to $125 to have installed, McCann says.

Problems with IIDs

The multiple breath samples are required to prevent someone other than the driver from providing the sample. Otherwise, the other person blowing the clean test might as well drive the drunken driver around.

Some people try to bypass the machine by having compressed air blown into the IID, and some IIDs get around this bypass by requiring the driver to hum while blowing into the machine to prove a human is blowing into it.

The machines can also have false positive tests for alcohol, such as bagels, doughnuts or other foods that contain yeast or other ingredients found in alcohol, or from mouthwashes and other oral care products that have alcohol in them. False positives can also come from perfume, hairspray and cologne.

“Like anything, it’s subject to false positives,” McCann says.

To prevent false tests, users should rinse their mouths with water and not use any products containing alcohol.

The California DMV, for example, doesn’t care a driver fails from alcohol from medication or mouthwash. “Alcohol is alcohol,” it says on its website in explaining how IIDs work. They’ll have to wait for the alcohol to dissipate from their mouth before taking the test again.

Other precautions

State laws on IIDs often require any car owned or used by the person convicted of the DUI to have an IID in each car. A husband with a DUI conviction who is driving his wife’s car occasionally, for example, will need to have a device installed in her car — which she’ll have to give a breath sample to before driving.

However, if the wife’s car is registered in her name and not his, the DMV won’t know to require the device, and the defendant could get around the law.

An exemption can be given for driving an employer’s vehicle, says McCann, who has also heard of people getting around the IID requirement by creating their own business and driving their car for business purposes.

The good news for DUI convicted drivers is that if they want to continue drinking alcohol, they can. The IIDs don’t stop them from drinking alcohol, only from driving with alcohol in them.

Aaron Crowe is a journalist in the Bay Area who covers the auto industry for CheapCarInsurance.net.