Blood Alcohol Ignition Interlock Devices are in use in almost every state in the U. S. and in many other countries, including Canada. These devices are inexpensive breathalyzers which are connected to a vehicle's ignition system. They are designed to prevent a driver with alcohol in his or her system from starting the vehicle. Since their primary goal is not to collect evidence, but to prevent someone who is intoxicated from starting a vehicle, these devices were not designed to meet stringent reliability and accuracy standards. These devices are therefore, not nearly as reliable as breathalyzers found in police stations. One of the reasons why these devices lack accuracy is because these devices use a “fuel cell" rather than infrared technology to measure alcohol. They use a less reliable fuel cell to keep costs down and make them affordable to motorists. Police breathalyzers cost thousands of dollars and these ignition interlock devices cost only hundreds of dollars.
If interlock devices were used only to prevent intoxicated persons from starting vehicles, their lack of accuracy would be insignificant. However, their readings are used as evidence in Registry of Motor Vehicles suspension hearings to decide whether to suspend a motorist's license for driving or attempting to drive after or while consuming alcohol. In Massachusetts, for example, a positive ignition interlock device (IID) reading can result in a license suspension for at least 10 years up to a lifetime. The Registry is suspending licenses on a machine designed not as a scientific instrument or evidentiary breath test device, but as an “interlock device, " designed to prevent a vehicle from starting.
There have been documented cases of alcohol readings caused by such things as mouthwash, cough drops, medication, baked goods, protein bars, and a variety of other common food items and consumables. When these readings occur, the unsuspecting motorist is often called into a registry hearing and forced to defend himself or herself at the risk of losing his or her license for a very long time, even maybe a lifetime.
Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from false alcohol readings:
1. If your interlock device falsely registers alcohol, you should immediately go to a police station or hospital to have your blood alcohol level checked. Obtain a copy of the report and save it, so that you can refute the inaccurate ignition interlock readings.
2. Try not to eat anything or put anything in your mouth prior to blowing into the interlock device. Even seemingly harmless items can register as alcohol.
3. Drink water to clear you mouth of contaminants before you blow in to the IID.
4. Do not use a mouthwash that contains alcohol.
5. Take detailed notes of any malfunctions or problems and report them to your service provider. Get the name of the person you speak with.
If you receive an interlock violation notice, you should contact an attorney who specializes in ignition interlock cases. Select a lawyer who is familiar with your device and who has successfully defended clients charged with interlock violations.
Attorney Brian E. Simoneau