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Ignition Interlock Devices Are More Dangerous Than You Think

Ignition interlock devices (IID) are small breathalyzer machines that are installed on vehicles. They are mandated for people who have been convicted of DUI charges in Connecticut. The requirement to install an IID applies to first and second time offenders, anyone who refuses to take a breath test or chemical test, and anyone whose license has been suspended as a result of an arrest or conviction for driving under the influence.

The IID is connected to the ignition; the driver must breathe into it to start the car, and then at random intervals while driving. If the device registers alcohol before the driver tries to operate the car, the car won’t start. If it registers alcohol while the vehicle is moving, the alarms will sound and the lights will flash, forcing the driver to get off the road and turn off the car. The device then logs a “fail” in its memory.

According to the state of Connecticut, “an ignition interlock program is a structured means of providing a convicted impaired driver a restricted driving privilege.” Per the state’s data, use of IIDs has reduced DUI rearrests by 65%.

How IIDs lead to distracted driving crashes

A recent New York Times report found that while IIDs may stop drunk driving crashes before they start, the devices also cause their fair share of car, truck, and motorcycle accidents. These collisions are largely the result of the “rolling retest,” the point where a driver who is already on the road must blow into the device in order to keep driving. Per the Times:

A review by The New York Times of accident reports and lawsuits turned up dozens of examples of collisions in which the devices played a role. A Pennsylvania driver trying to complete a test blew so hard that he blacked out and crashed into a tree, nearly severing his left hand. Another in rural New Hampshire struck a telephone pole. And in California, a man attempting a rolling retest on a busy highway crossed the dividing line and hit another car, badly injuring a woman and killing her husband.

This information is not new, but it is costly – to ignition interlock device manufacturers. When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) considered requiring that breath retests take place while the car was stopped on the side of the road, industry and organizational pressure objected, ultimately pressuring the NHTSA to back down. The NHTSA regulator’s last report, published in 2013, indicated that distracted driving while using an IID was a concern, but admitted it lacked the data to address the issue, and instead left rolling retest requirements to the states and local authorities.

IIDs can lead to false positives

Aside from the risk of a distracted driving accident, there is also a risk of a false positive reading. The New York Times recently covered the unreliability of breath tests. Ignition interlock devices may be even less reliable, because they “use a cheaper and less trustworthy technology, the kind found in hand-held breath testers used in traffic stops.” According to some popular IID manufacturers, any of the following products can lead to a false positive:

  • Mouthwash
  • Toothpaste
  • Breath mints
  • Gum
  • Donuts
  • Chocolate
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Pizza
  • Bread
  • Vinegar
  • Fruit juice
  • Energy drinks
  • Vanilla extract
  • Cough medicine
  • “Spicy” foods

Yet IID results can be used in Connecticut to prove a driver was drinking behind the wheel, potentially leading to thousands of dollars in fines and fees, jail time, community service, and the suspension or revocation of your driver’s license.

Why you need a lawyer on your side

Anyone who is injured by a driver who is distracted due to an IID rolling retest, may have a personal injury claim against the manufacturer of the IID and the driver. Often, the best way to ensure safety comes first is to make a claim against the manufacturer, because a positive outcome can generate real change from companies that don’t want to go through another lawsuit in the future.

If you currently have an ignition interlock device installed in your car, you cannot remove it until your year is up. However, if you blow a false positive, a DUI defense lawyer from our firm can help you make your case.

The experienced Manchester lawyers at Barry & Barall, LLC represent those accused of drunk driving, as well as clients who have been injured by distracted drivers. To discuss your legal rights, call us at 860-649-4400 or use our contact form to make an appointment. We serve Hartford, Manchester, and the surrounding areas.