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Ignition Interlock: How It Works for Safety

05 December, 2023

A man driving while the man in the passenger seat looks out the window

Drink driving is a serious offence that endangers everyone on the road. It can result in fatal crashes, which is why ignition interlock devices have become increasingly common. This device prevents the vehicle from starting if it detects alcohol in the sample of breath provided. Furthermore, it randomly requires tests during the drive to ensure the individual is not consuming alcohol on the road. This prevents people from driving while intoxicated, leading to less accidents.

Individuals must follow the legal limit for alcohol consumption when driving. To ensure this, law enforcement conducts roadside tests to identify offenders. Those charged with a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offence face many possible penalties. This includes the revocation of driving privileges and participation in an interlock program. This article will present what an interlock device is, how it works, and who is subjected to use it.

What is an Ignition Interlock?

An alcohol interlock is a device installed in a vehicle to prevent it from starting unless certain conditions are met. It helps prevent drink driving. This can help increase road safety and protect the general public from accidents. They are available for many vehicle types and are typically installed on the dashboard or console of the motor vehicle.

There are several types of alcohol interlock devices. Firstly, the Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (BAIID). This is a common type of alcohol interlock that requires the driver to provide a breath specimen into a tube. Secondly, the Vehicle Alcohol Detection System (VADS) is a device that uses advanced technology such as infrared spectrometry.

Other devices also incorporate photo verification and GPS tracking. Photo verification ensures the correct person is providing the specimen for analysis. Ultimately, the type of alcohol-sensing device used depends on the legal requirements of the state or territory. This can vary depending on the severity of the relevant offence.

Purpose of the Device

  • The main purpose of this device is to ensure the participants of an alcohol interlock program follow safe driving practices.
  • This device aims to prevent individuals from driving if they are under the influence of alcohol.
  • It tracks whether the program participant is complying with the requisite tests to complete their program.
  • This helps minimise drink driving offences by ensuring only sober individuals can operate the vehicle.
  • It helps maintain road safety for the drivers and the general public. This is because impairment from high BAC causes an increased risk of accidents, which includes property damage, injuries, and fatalities.

A man opening a beer bottle while driving

How Does an Ignition Interlock Work?

An ignition interlock works similarly to a portable breathalyser. To operate one, the individual must provide a breath sample. This is done by continuously blowing into a tube or mouthpiece until they give an acceptable breath sample. Then, the device will analyse the specimen and measure the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level.

The device will allow the individual to drive if it does not detect alcohol. On the other hand, it will not start if it detects ethanol above the designated limit. Users may retest after some time passes, but consecutive failed results may lock the car. In most cases, this will require services from an authorised interlock provider to unlock.

Furthermore, the interlock device will require random tests throughout the drive. If the driver fails, it will trigger an alarm that will not stop until the offender pulls over and turns off the car. This is to help ensure that the person does not consume alcoholic beverages while driving. All data from the tests, including missed test records, are sent to the court or supervising agency during recalibration.

Is It Accurate?

An interlock device can provide accurate results. However, the level of its accuracy depends on the sensors used. Typically, these have either semiconductor or fuel cell sensors. Although both provide accurate and reliable results, many consider fuel cell sensors as more accurate. This is because it only reacts to ethanol.

Furthermore, regular recalibration is needed to maintain the accuracy. This is crucial for preventing false positive results that can negatively affect the records. Users may also take additional steps to avoid inaccurate readings. This includes waiting about 15 minutes after eating or drinking before testing.

Two police officers inspecting a car crash

Who is Subjected to Use an Ignition Interlock?

Ignition interlock devices are typically installed in the vehicles of individuals caught drink driving. They are often required by law for offenders with suspended or revoked licences. This can be due to previous convictions of dangerous driving offences. However, many require prior authorisation from a medical professional. Ultimately, the eligibility for these devices depends on the specific laws of the state or territory.

In most cases, individuals under alcohol interlock conditions must apply for an interlock licence. When they receive this probationary licence, they become eligible participants in the program. However, they must shoulder all the financial costs needed under the alcohol interlock program. This includes the installation cost, monthly servicing, and other fees of the interlock service provider.

For many, this can prove to be a significant burden. Fortunately, some states provide financial assistance. Individuals must maintain compliance with the rules during the duration of their programs. Failing to do so may lead to violations, depending on the severity and number of breaches.

Duration of the Interlock and the Penalties for Violation

The general minimum period for an alcohol interlock program is six months to one year. This interlock participation period can be extended if the program participant fails to comply with the rules and regulations. Another possible penalty for violations is a driver licence disqualification. This will prohibit them from operating any motor vehicle.

Hence, the offender must avoid incurring further offences during their interlock period. The interlock driver may study the specific rules they must follow to finish the program without extensions. They must also practice safe alcohol consumption to avoid violating alcohol interlock laws.

Conclusion

An ignition interlock device prevents individuals from starting their car when they are under the influence of alcohol. It works similarly to a breathalyser and measures the BAC level of the individual from their breath sample. If it does not detect ethanol, then the driver may proceed. However, if it does, the offender has a limited number of retakes before the car gets locked. Furthermore, this device will signal for random tests throughout the drive.

Those charged with DUI offences may apply to participate in an alcohol interlock program. However, they must bear all of the costs associated with it. Moreover, participants must strictly follow the rules of the program. If they are found violating the rules, they can face period extensions or licence disqualification. Ultimately, interlock devices help maintain road safety and prevent accidents from occurring by ensuring only sober drivers can operate the vehicle.

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