This video provides an in-depth overview of ignition interlock devices. What they are, how they work, who uses them and where. The video is appropriate for a variety of audiences including treatment and assessment programs and their clients, defense attorneys, law enforcement, and driving education providers, as well as others who need to understand these devices and how they are used.

The video was produced and provided at no charge by Guardian Interlock, ensuring safety for over 20 years.

Did you know that today there are approximately three hundred and thirty thousand ignition interlocks installed on vehicles throughout the United States? And that number is increasing by approximately ten percent every year.

So what is an ignition interlock device?  

It’s a small, hand-held device that is connected to a vehicles’ starting system. When installed, the device prevents the car from being started unless the operator can prove they are not impaired by alcohol.

When a vehicle operator wants to start a vehicle with an ignition interlock installed, they blow into the device, providing a breath sample for the device to analyze. If the breath sample reveals there is an unacceptable level of alcohol, it will not allow the vehicle to be started. Alternatively, if the breath sample is acceptable, the vehicle will start and operate normally.

We’ll go into more detail on taking a starting test as well as running retests shortly. First, let’s look at when an interlock device is used.

The most common use of an ignition interlock device is when it is required of a driver after they receive a DUI, DWI, OVI, or similar citation. The device is typically required by the state driving authority or a court for a specific period of time. The amount of time required varies according to a number of factors including the state in which the violation is received, a driver having a prior similar violation, the level of alcohol measured at the time of the violation, as well as various aggravating circumstances. A judge may also decide at their own discretion to order an interlock installation.

Another increasing type of interlock usage is for business fleets, on a voluntary basis. Businesses with fleets of cars, trucks, and buses have recognized the important role that an interlock device can play in keeping their employees, customers, and the public safe. Outside the U.S., interlock devices are frequently required on certain types of commercial vehicles, and the benefits of having interlock devices have gained the attention of companies in several domestic business sectors.

How do Interlock Devices Work?

As stated earlier, the ignition interlock device is connected to a vehicles’ starting system. The device itself has two main parts, the handset and a relay module that connects to the wiring under the dash and hood. A coiled cable connects the relay module to the handset which is mounted to the dashboard for easy access and use.

Today, ignition interlock devices utilize fuel-cell technology that is alcohol-specific. When a person blows into the handset of a device the breath sample goes into a fuel cell chamber. The presence and level of alcohol in the chamber causes the fuel cell to produce an increased electrical current, which is measured and translated into an equivalent blood alcohol concentration. The results of this test determine whether or not the vehicle operator is permitted to start and continue to operate the vehicle. Simply put, if the test is below the allowable limit, the car will start. If it is above that limit, the car will not start.

Once a driver successfully tests and starts the vehicle, they will be required to periodically and randomly retest while they are driving. This retesting, which typically starts within just a few minutes of the initial start, prevent impaired drivers from having someone else start their vehicle for them, then operating the vehicle while impaired. In some states and jurisdictions, a camera is required which adds an additional level of certainty about who is starting and driving the vehicle.

When installed properly by a trained technician, the device will not interfere with the operation of the vehicle, it will not damage the vehicle’s electrical system and it will not physically interfere with legroom or other normal driving needs and habits. Typically, handsets are mounted on the dashboard away from any other instruments in the car such as a radio, gear shift, or other controls. A trained technician knows where to place the handset so the driver can easily reach and remove it while sitting in the driver’s seat and even while operating the vehicle.

As part of a professional installation, people having an interlock device installed to receive a combination of video and in-person training on the device and how to use it. This training provides a comfort level about having and using the device and provides answers to common questions. Effective training and education will result in the successful and stress-free completion of an ignition interlock program.

Once installed and provided with training, a driver is ready to take a test and start their vehicle.

As mentioned previously, the first test allows a driver to start the vehicle. Subsequent retests are programmed to allow the unimpaired driver to continue to drive – and to prevent impaired drivers from having someone else start their vehicle for them before taking the wheel. If an impaired driver attempts this and fails a subsequent retest, in most states, the vehicle lights will begin flashing and the horn will continuously sound until the vehicle is stopped and turned off.

In some states and local jurisdictions, a camera is required and installed. This adds an additional level of certainty about who is starting and driving a vehicle. The camera also provides photographic proof of anyone who fails a test.

Did you know that 37 states have some type of interlock requirement for the first time someone is charged with impaired driving? Each year more states are moving to this requirement and lowering the level of alcohol that determines the first time requirement.

Let’s take a closer look at an individual test…starting and retesting.

First, a new, clean, and dry mouthpiece is placed into the device. Once the device is on it will indicate via its display when the driver can take a test. Once indicated, it is time to take the test, the driver should take a deep breath and blow consistently into the mouthpiece for approximately 5-7 seconds.

The device will then indicate via tone and or display if an acceptable breath sample has been received. If it has not, the device will ask for a second sample to be provided.  Once an adequate sample has been received, the device will test the sample.

If the device detects an acceptable breath alcohol level, the car will start.  If the device detects an unacceptable level of breath alcohol the device will register a fail and the driver will not be able to start the car or in the case of a running retest, it will typically cause the lights to flash and the horn to continuously sound until the vehicle is stopped and turned off by the driver.  For safety reasons, the device will never turn off the vehicle.

What is running a re-test?

Once you have passed your test and are driving your vehicle, you will be required to take a number of re-tests.  Typically, your first re-test will be shortly after the vehicle is started, and at random intervals thereafter. If the re-test is not taken when prompted, or if it is failed one or more times while the engine is still running, a violation will be recorded and the horn will sound until the engine is shut off.

You will typically have 5 – 6 minutes to pass the re-test or shut the vehicle off before further sanctions are imposed. Once again, the device cannot and will not shut your vehicle off.

The device is designed to allow you to continue driving and safely re-test without taking your eyes off the road.  However, if you are uncomfortable, it is recommended that you pull off the road, and come to a complete stop before taking the re-test.

Did you know that states requiring all impaired drivers to use an ignition interlock, have cut DUI deaths by over 30 percent?

Who is supportive of the use of interlock devices?

The use of interlock devices is supported by many individuals and entities. Over the past twenty-some plus years the support for the devices has grown dramatically both in terms of numbers and diversity. The reason for this growth in support is the wide-spread acceptance that interlock devices are an affordable and effective way to stop impaired drivers before they start their vehicle and put community safety at risk. As the awareness and understanding of interlock effectiveness have grown the list of supporters has expanded rapidly.

Today that support includes state driving authorities like DMV’s, BMV’s, and similar entities who also frequently manage the administrative aspects of the programs and regulate the providers. These state driving authorities receive the device reporting data from individuals who are required to have a device before regaining full driving privileges.

Supporters of interlock devices also include state legislators. Frequently and sadly their support is often triggered by tragedies suffered by the constituents they represent in their state legislatures. These elected officials soon become the driving force in strengthening interlock requirements as well as other important aspects of helping individuals who have alcohol use issues, such as treatment and assessment organizations, licensed counselors, and DUI educators, who are also frequently supporters of interlock devices.

In recent years, many law enforcement departments at the state and local level have recognized the contribution of interlock devices; not just in terms of keeping their communities safer but for the reduction in accidents that puts law enforcement officers in harm’s way when they have to respond and clear accident scenes as well as when they have to intercept and stop impaired drivers before they cause an accident.

Support even comes from unexpected places such as defense attorneys.  While many might believe that attorneys simply want to get their clients out of trouble, the fact is that numerous defense attorney associations and thousands of attorneys independently support and recommend interlock devices for their clients.

Of course, interlock devices have tremendous support from NHTSA, the National Highway, and Traffic Safety Administration. Not only do they set the benchmark for device requirements, but they are also an advocate for their increased usage.

But perhaps no advocate for interlocks is as prominent and as vocal as MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. For years, they have been an ardent supporter of ignition interlocks. Through those years they have been deeply supportive of forwarding the cause of interlocks. Their support can be seen in their work toward legislatures, the media, and directly to consumers. MADD’s position on interlocks can also be understood in the following video of their own on the subject:

How to select an interlock provider

There are typically multiple interlock providers for a consumer, an organization, or a business to choose from in fulfilling an interlock requirement or need. Since most of us don’t know much about interlock devices or services until we need one, there are important things to know before you choose an interlock provider. Let’s review a brief list:

Pre-Installation Requirements Knowledge: Before you select an interlock provider you need to make certain the provider you are choosing understands your personal situation. Interlock requirements vary by state and even by individuals within a state. You’ll want a provider that asks you about your personal situation, because if you don’t fulfill the precise requirements made of you, you may simply be spending money that won’t satisfy your requirements. Ask questions, make sure your provider is focused on you.

A Reliable, Proven Device: There are a variety of devices for most people in most states to choose from. Some states have stringent requirements and some have little device oversight. You want a device that has a proven track record. Ask your provider about their device capabilities, history of performance, and how widely the device is used.

Service Location Convenience: After installation, you will typically need to visit your interlock provider every thirty to sixty days. That means you want to make certain that your provider has convenient locations.

Ongoing Service Commitment – In-Person and Client Service: When you first contact a provider you should be thinking, does this sound like a company that I would like to work with for the next six months to a year or more? You will need a knowledgeable partner and want a thoughtful provider during the installation period. And since your provider is typically reporting your program results to authorities, you want to have confidence that they are monitoring and reporting with accuracy.

Price Fairness & Pricing Integrity: While installation and monthly monitoring pricing are what most people ask about, it’s important to ask more. Make sure you understand exactly what your provider charges up-front and after installation. That way you’ll make a good choice…with no surprises.

In summary, this video has reviewed all of the basics of an interlock device – from what a device is, to when it’s utilized, to how it works, and how to use it. You’ve learned about who supports the use of interlocks and if you need one, the important questions that require knowledgeable answers.

Regardless of what your interest or need in interlocks may be, we hope you have gained the belief shared by many: That ignition interlocks are an effective and integral part of the effort that we all should be committed to with one common objective: keeping our roads safe for all – and off-limits for those who drink and drive.

Thank you for watching and please drive safely.

The video was produced and provided at no charge by Guardian Interlock, ensuring safety for over 20 years.

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