Ignition Interlock Do’s and Don’ts – and Don’ts

Alice_05a-240 Wide.jpgImage by Sir John Tenniel (“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Since 2009, New York has required drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated to install ignition interlock devices (IIDs) in any vehicle they either own or operate. Per Section 1193(1)(b)(ii) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, the minimum period of this restriction will be 6 months, and it can be longer.

You’ll have to submit an affidavit at sentencing. In this affidavit you’ll either provide detailed information about any vehicle you own, or certify that you have no vehicle. The court will give you ten days from sentencing to get an IID installed in any applicable vehicle, but from the moment you’re convicted you must have one in any vehicle you drive. For this reason it’s recommended that you get one installed before sentencing.

There’s another reason to get it installed early, if you decide that it’s inevitable. You get credit for this period even if you haven’t been sentenced yet. (Before you do it, however, be warned: the wording of the statute suggests that – once you get it installed – “the period of interlock restriction” has commenced, whether you’ve been sentenced or not.)

Complying with the interlock requirement costs money, of course, although financial assistance in is available for low-income drivers. A ‘financial disclosure report‘ is available through New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services. Drivers requesting assistance should fill it out and submit it to the court prior to installation, if they’re getting it installed early, and in any case prior to sentencing.

Once you have your IID installed, all you have to do is figure out how to live with it. And this may or may not be a problem for you, if our clients’ experience is anything to go by. Some of them have had no issues at all. Others have found the devices a chronic headache.

These devices are, obviously, intended to prevent alcohol-impaired driving. If an IID detects what it takes to be alcohol on the driver’s breath, it refuses to allow the car to start. It then reports these failures to the IID provider. The IID provider then reports the failure to the probation department overseeing the IID requirement. You may then be hearing from the court that sentenced you. You can then, at a minimum, expect a lecture. At a maximum, you could find yourself re-sentenced to probation – or even to jail.

Just what will trigger an IID report of failure? More than you would think.

The State of Michigan’s Secretary of State warns “that certain substances, such as mouth wash, may cause the device to record a test failure.” LifeSafer, a company that’s in the business of installing and maintaining these systems, acknowledges that mouthwash (some of which are apparently 30% alcohol) can cause a driver to fail a breath test with its machines. (See ‘number 6’ on its page entitled “Demystifying Ignition Interlock Devices”). The State of Maryland, meanwhile, has advice for drivers who complain that “[T]he device failed me because I brushed my teeth, used mouthwash, splashed on cologne or took cough medicine.” Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration notes on its website that “[t]he interlock device is very sensitive, and a number of every day items may give you a failed reading.” You can almost hear a sigh as the site continues:

Your ignition interlock vendor should have explained this to you at the time of installation of the device. To avoid this problem, always rinse your mouth out with water before blowing into the device. If you have a breath alcohol failure, rinse your mouth out, take a few deep breaths, and wait approximately 4 – 5 minutes before taking another test.

The list of ‘every day items’ includes, according to Vermont’s DMV, “[a]nything containing alcohol; alcoholic beverages, mouthwash, food cooked with alcohol, some fermented fruits, some toothpastes, cough medicine, inhalers, etc.” Even foods that don’t contain alcohol can be a problem, though. David J. Hanson, PhD, notes, on the website of the State University of New York Potsdam, a report “that alcohol-free subjects can generate BAC readings of about .05 after eating various types of bread products.” One of our clients reports that ‘wheat-based’ cereal can trigger the machine.

And this doesn’t include substances in the environment, such as oil-based paint, that can be inhaled and – potentially – skew an IID reading.

What’s a driver supposed to do? Well, to quote Doctor in the House, a British sit-com, “if in doubt, cut it out.”