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The hidden dangers of ignition interlocks

On Behalf of | May 4, 2023 | DUI | 0 comments

To curb drunk driving offenses, authorities across America have turned to ignition interlock devices. And why wouldn’t they when data suggests that their use has led to reduced DUI offenses?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ignition interlocks have reduced DUI repeat offenses by approximately 70% once installed. The agency also noted that laws requiring an ignition interlock were linked with 26% fewer alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal crashes compared to previous years when there were no such laws.

While there’s no denying a correlation between ignition interlocks and reduced DUI offenses, there are also concerns that the devices can lead to other risks.

How they work

Ignition interlock devices, which are about the size of a mobile phone, are essentially breathalyzers linked to the ignition systems of an automobile. A driver must blow into the interlock to allow the device to measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels. Once the device detects that the driver’s BAC is below a certain level (typically 0.02 g/dL and below), the car can start.

However, drivers must not only blow into the device to start their vehicle but must also retake the test while on the road. Called “rolling retests,” these tests occur randomly while the driver is behind the wheel. The driver must take one hand off the wheel to hold the device and blow to take the retest. Failure to provide a breath test while driving will put the car into “panic mode,” wherein its headlights will flash, and its horn will constantly blare until the driver takes the test.

It’s these rolling retests that could become a distracted driving risk.

Ignition interlocks and distracted driving

A study by The New York Times found dozens of cases where taking a rolling retest led to collisions. Working with North Carolina – one of the few U.S. states publicly disclosing traffic collision records – the news outlet found that the state had 58 ignition interlock-related crashes over 10 years. NYT even suggests that the 58 crashes are an undercount, as North Carolina’s database doesn’t always have every crash report detail.

By law, drivers who receive a second DUI violation in Pennsylvania must install ignition interlock devices on their vehicles. As effective as the devices prevent drunk driving, they also pose a risk of distracted driving. But before worrying about the risks posed by ignition interlocks, drivers with a DUI conviction might want to hire an attorney to appeal the charge and potentially avoid having the device installed in their cars.



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