An interlock device is a breathalyzer that is installed in a driver’s car, which the driver must blow into to start the car. Other names for an interlock device include an ignition interlock device or a breath alcohol ignition interlock device.
The state may require a driver to have an interlock device installed in their car after they receive a conviction for driving under the influence (DUI). Just like a handheld breathalyzer, an interlock device has a mouthpiece that the driver blows into. Each interlock device has a certain blood alcohol concentration (BAC) programmed into it, and if the driver’s BAC is higher than that amount, the car will not start. The standard BAC maximum with interlock devices is .02, well below the legal limit of .08. For some drivers, one drink is enough to push their BAC to .02 or more.
If the driver’s BAC isn’t under the programmed maximum, then the ignition interlock won’t allow the signal from the car’s starter to reach the engine and the car won’t start. The only way that a car with an interlock device can be started is when the device receives a valid breath sample that’s under the programmed maximum.
What if another person blows into the interlock device for the driver? To prevent this issue, and to prevent the driver from drinking alcohol after starting their car, the interlock device will require additional breath samples at random times while the engine is running. If the driver doesn’t blow into the device, or if they do and their BAC is now above the programmed maximum, then the device will record that, provide a warning message to the driver to stop the car and finally start an alarm. The alarm may consist of the lights flashing, the horn honking or both. This alarm will continue until the driver either provides a clean breath sample or shuts off the car.
There’s a mistaken belief among some drivers that if the driver doesn’t provide a valid breath sample on one of those random requests, the interlock device will shut the car off entirely. This isn’t the case, because that could create a safety hazard. By creating an alarm instead, the interlock device helps to warn other drivers and police that the driver of the car is impaired.
There are fees for an interlock device, which must be paid by the driver. The installation fee for an interlock device is typically between about $100 and $200, and there are also monthly fees of about $60 to $100. The monthly fees are to monitor and calibrate the device. Standard calibration intervals are every 30, 60 or 90 days, and when the driver brings in the interlock device for calibration, the logs from the device are also either printed or downloaded. The authorities may look at this log to see if there were any violations, and if so, the driver could receive additional punishments. In some cases, violations are immediately sent to the authorities wirelessly. Depending on the situation, the authorities could be the court that sentenced the driver, the Department of Motor Vehicles or a probation officer.
Every state allows the use of interlock devices either as part of an offender’s sentence or as a sentencing alternative. In New York, any driver who receives a driving while intoxicated (DWI) conviction must install an interlock device on their car for a period of at least 6 months.
Interlock devices can be effective in preventing drivers from getting behind the wheel while impaired, and they can also benefit drivers by allowing them to drive again more quickly after a DUI conviction. Instead of a suspended license, a driver may be able to get a restricted license requiring the use of an interlock device, so they’re still able to get to work, school or anywhere else they need to go.
If an offender drives without the required interlock device on their vehicle, possible punishments include a prison sentence, a fine or a revoked driver’s license.
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