It began in the mid-2000s. Nevada and Arizona started something that is still sweeping the country. They mandated ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenses, including first offenses.

An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Other states had been adopting the device since the 1990s to keep convicted drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel, but the device was seen as a last resort, appropriate for serial offenders. Perceptive legislators in Arizona and Nevada realized that mandating the device for all offenders would bring down alcohol-related fatality rates, and they were right. In some cases the rates plummeted.

Other state legislators took notice, and today 30 states have made the devices available for any convicted drunk driver. The devices allow the offender to regain driving privileges without the risk of letting a drunk driver on the road.

North Carolina is among the states that has not yet hopped on board. Ignition interlocks are only required for multiple DWI offenders, or first offenders who are found to have a very high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) – .15 or greater. While it’s important that multiple offenders and “super-drunk” drivers have an ignition interlock installed, the 30 states that require the interlock device for every DWI offender have it right.

North Carolina DWI Laws Need to Change

The roads and streets of North Carolina would be safer if the North Carolina DWI law specified:

  • Mandatory ignition interlock for all DWI offenders with a BAC of .08 or greater
  • The interlock device should be available upon arrest – in other words, before trial.
  • An indigent fund should exist to help pay for interlocks for those who cannot pay themselves
  • There should be compliance-based removal: the device is not removed unless the offender has passed a given amount of time (we propose 4 months) without a failed test. This ensures that he or she is able to drive responsibly.

There is no cure-all for drunk driving, but there are strategies that have been proven to save lives, and an all-offender ignition interlock law is among the best. Citizens who value public safety in North Carolina should let their legislators know that they want their state to join the national trend that is taking drunk drivers off the roads.

kombucha alcohol duiKombucha has had two bursts of fame in recent days.  First, for becoming a popular social drink (and thus big business) in the U.S. after about 1900 years as an obscure Japanese health tonic. Second, for the revelation that drinking it can cause one to register a fail on a breathalyzer, alcohol monitor or ignition interlock.

The second flurry of publicity stems from the DUI arrest of Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Michael Floyd, whose blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was recorded at .044 by his alcohol monitoring device. Floyd claimed that he was drinking kombucha and did not realize that it contained alcohol.

Kombucha is a fermented tea drink; the fermentation process produces alcohol. Some brands have very little of it, but others have about half the kick of beer, so much that stores are cautious about selling the stuff to minors.

Not everyone buys Floyd’s explanation, and in truth it does sound as if Floyd was really chugging down the kombucha in order to reach that high a BAC. But most of us do not have the NFL and the sports press breathing down our necks – we just want to know if having a bottle of kombucha in the cup holder can land us in jail.

Beware the breath

The truth is, even if kombucha alcohol can’t land you in jail, it could easily get you as far as the police station. If it’s fermenting, just drinking it could turn your mouth into a mini-brewery. So, for that matter, could fruit juice or even bread, which contains yeast. You could easily take a swig of kombucha and send a breathalyzer off the charts. Once a blood test was done you’d be exonerated, but no one would want to let it get that far.

This video demonstrates how kombucha alcohol in the mouth can cause a deceptively high BAC rating. Moreover, if you brew your kombucha at home, it will be unpasteurized, so the fermentation can continue and raise the alcohol content.

It goes without saying that if you have an ignition interlock installed in your vehicle, you should avoid kombucha when driving, and rinse out your mouth well if you’ve been drinking it that day. Ignition interlocks are designed to react to alcohol, so they’ll register the contents of your mouth as well as your system – it all exits through the breath.

Whether kombucha benefits the health is a question for medical experts. It’s proven beyond doubt, though, that drinking it can be bad for your breathalyzer results. So be warned.

darkness from NC drunk driver

Darkness courtesy of NC drunk driver

We often look at the damage drunk drivers do in terms of themselves – they get killed and injured – and others. And impaired driving is responsible for some 10,000 deaths each year, and 290,000 injuries – that’s an injury every two minutes.

But the decision to drink and drive can cost us in other ways. Taxes are higher because law enforcement, the courts, and prisons come into play when people drive drunk. And there is the cost of property – not just cars, but road signs, guard rails, houses, and other structures that stand in the way of vehicles piloted by drunk drivers.

Light poles are a common target. In Winston-Salem recently some 2,300 people were de-electrified thanks to the decision of a motorist to get behind the wheel after drinking. And this type of crash is not as rare as you might think. A year ago in Clayton, a similar crash put a thousand homes in the dark.

There are costs to power outages beyond missing a TV show. Food gets spoiled. Some people lose money because they are unable to work, or their business premises are unable to function.

But people who aren’t swayed by the thought of injury and death – their own or someone else’s – aren’t going to worry about electric power for a neighborhood. That is why North Carolina will need to keep the pressure on drunk drivers through laws. One way it could reduce the chances of mishaps like this would be to enact a law requiring ignition interlocks for all DWI offenders with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more. Currently the devices, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, are only mandated for first offenses if the BAC is .15 or higher.

Repeat DWI offenders don’t think about the consequences of their actions, so we need to, through laws and technology that’s been proven to work. We can’t catch every NC drunk driver before he or she breaks the law, but we’re far from powerless.

Once again, the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety has released numbers of Arizona DUI arrests for the July 4th weekend.

The totals are pretty breathtaking. In the period between Thursday, June 29th and Independence Day, police conducted some 16,000 traffic stops. The stops resulted in 539 Arizona DUI arrests.

Arrest numbers can mean different things, depending on your view. It appears that Arizona police found a drunk driver for every 21 traffic stops they made. That seems pretty steep, but presumably those 21 drivers were not a random sampling – they were pulled over because of some other behavior. So we don’t know exactly what proportion of Arizona’s 5 million drivers were impaired and behind the wheel during those 5 days.

What we do know is this:

  • 539 people were unaware or unconcerned that drunk driving is a criminal offense in Arizona. Even a first offense can get them 10 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. There are other costs too: jail costs, and a mandatory ignition interlock on their vehicle for one year.
  • 148 people were arrested for extreme DUI, meaning a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 1.5 or more. These people were apparently unaware or unconcerned that even a first extreme DUI merits 30 days in jail almost $2,800 in fines, mandatory screening and counseling, and an ignition interlock. If any of those were repeat extreme DUIs, they will be in for even stiffer penalties.
  • 539 Arizonans did not seem to care that alcohol, which depresses the central nervous system, compromised their judgment, slowed their reaction time, impaired their vision and hearing, and made it much more likely that they would get in a collision. In fact, a UC San Diego study found that even a small amount of alcohol in a driver’s system – a BAC of .01 – made it 46 percent more likely that that driver would be blamed for a collision.

And those 539 Arizonans did not seem to care that more than 250 people in the state, and some 10,000 people in the country, die each year as a result of someone’s decision to drink and drive. Fortunately, a lot of Arizonans do, and they’ll continue to support efforts like those of Governor’s Office of Highway Safety to take drunk drivers off the road.

july-4th-trip

Happy Independence Day. We at Monitech Ignition Interlock work every day to ensure that all of you get safely to your holiday destination – and back – by preventing drunk drivers from taking to the roads.

Please help us by doing the same. If you see someone attempting to drink and drive, please do what you can to make sure it doesn’t happen. There’s no holiday from safe driving, ever.

Enjoy your July 4th trip. See you on the 5th, safe and sound.

handcuffs- pleading down drunk drivingPeople are individuals, and so are their crimes. This is why our justice system allows flexibility in charging and sentencing. However, the crime of drunk driving is so straightforward that it’s often exempt from such bargaining. In many states pleading down drunk driving charges is not permitted. Most states also have mandatory penalties such as jail time and ignition interlock requirements.

A recent case shows how giving DUI offenders a break can cost society dearly.

Kelly Ann Conkin was sentenced this month for killing a 79 year old woman in an alcohol-related wreck. Her BAC was 2.1, more than twice the legal limit. The collision happened in Steele Creek in Charlotte, North Carolina. The sentence was 12 to 15 years.

Conkin had been arrested three times for drunk driving. Yet she had a license to drive, because of a combination of mistakes, deception and bad luck.

  • First time: When she was first arrested for DUI, the charge was pled down to reckless driving – a measure that is available to drunk drivers in some states so that a DUI does not go on their record. In this way they avoid a wide range of penalties.
  • Second time: Conkin’s second arrest, in Charlotte, was her first official DWI, since her first real drunk driving charge didn’t count as such.
  • Third time.  She was arrested a third time in South Carolina, but the courts managed to miss the previous North Carolina DUI. So once again, she was prosecuted as a first offender. That made her eligible for fewer consequences.

For Want of an Ignition Interlock, a Life Was Lost

The crucial fact is that, had Conkin’s last drunk driving episode been prosecuted as a repeat DUI instead of a first offense, she would have had an ignition interlock installed in her vehicle on the day she killed Cecilia Buitrago de Gonzalez. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

That means that Gonzalez’s death might have been avoided if the offender had not been allowed to reduce the first offense.

Ignition interlocks are unique in that they are the only measure apart from imprisonment that prevents an offender from repeating a crime. In order for ignition interlock laws to work effectively, they must be enforced. That means that first offenders should be charged with the appropriate crime – DUI. Only then can repeat drunk drivers be identified and prevented from causing harm and suffering on our roads.

Justice - US drunk driving penaltiesThere are those who think that drunk driving legislation in the US has gotten out of hand. In particular, some people rail against the .08 blood alcohol limit for intoxication, which is the national standard. Others think that a first DUI should not be such a big deal. Ignition interlocks, they say – devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – should only be ordered for incorrigible repeat drunk drivers.

Are US drunk driving penalties too harsh? No. At least not compared to how drunk drivers are dealt with in most other countries.

BAC Limits. The .08 limit that the US subscribes to in defining intoxication is low. Among the countries that prosecute anyone with a BAC of .05 or above: Kyrgyzstan, Hong Kong, Jordan, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, and New Zealand. Among those with a limit of .02: China, Algeria, Russia, Sweden, and Ukraine. A good number also have zero as a limit: Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. While a few countries have limits higher than the US, .08 is on the high side and far from strict.

Penalties: In the US penalties vary by state, but a glance at how some other countries treat drunk driving shows that the US is far from tough, comparatively speaking.

  • Australia: Permanent loss of license for second DUI offense
  • France: Confiscation of your vehicle, 3 years license suspension.
  • Sweden: Fines are based on how much money you have in the bank.
  • Australia: Your name is sent to newspapers for public shaming.
  • Turkey: In small towns, drunk drivers are driven 20 miles out and made to walk back to the police station.

All in all, US drunk driving penalties are not terribly strict. One positive trend is the adoption of ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenses. As of this month 30 states now have all-offender interlock laws, which help reduce DUI recidivism and protect the public from impaired drivers.

signs of drunk driving in north carolina.

When scoping the roads, the police look for the signs of drunk driving. Some of those signs are subtle, some are obvious.

And once in a while, the signs are flattened.

Recently a woman drove over a street sign at the junction of Mills Road and Ivy Road in Greenville. She was trying to negotiate the roundabout– a roundabout that was placed there less than a year ago to prevent crashes –when she hopped a curb, barrelled over a road sign and continued driving over two flat tires. Eventually she stopped. She told a State Trooper she didn’t remember hitting the road sign.

Signs of Drunk Driving: Obliviousness

This isn’t just an amusing anecdote – it’s a lesson we can stand to learn. A road sign makes a pretty pronounced crunch when you ride over it. It’s a scary sound – or should be – and it’s pretty hard to ignore. A driver who doesn’t hear that is seriously impaired.

And a driver who doesn’t know when she hits a road sign will not know when she hits a child. Alcohol affects more than just coordination – it impairs vision and hearing as well. When alcohol levels are high enough, a person operating a 3,000 pound machine is effectively unaware of his or her surroundings.

Some of the signs of a drunk driver, matched with the impairment that caused it.

  • Veering off the center line: a result of decreased concentration and poor vision
  • Too wide turning: Impaired tracking ability means the driver can’t judge the car’s position on the road
  • Waiting at green light: Alcohol decreases attention span, so a driver can’t keep his or her mind on the task at hand.
  • Inconsistent signaling: Drinking also reduces a drivers’ comprehension, so they are likely to make irrational decisions.

There’s a long list of signs that police look for, not that they had to go through too many in this case. The sign on the ground was plenty.

But remember, it’s only funny because the victim was a road sign and not a living soul.

north carolina ignition interlockIf you’ve been ordered to install an ignition interlock, and you’re a North Carolina driver, you might have some questions about this new device that’s about to enter your life.

No worries – it’s not difficult to manage, and your life will soon be back to normal if you follow instructions and learn the basics. Here are some facts that North Carolina drivers should know if they have a DWI and are about to get an interlock device.

You’ve been ordered to install an ignition interlock. What is that?

An ignition interlock is a device, attached to a vehicle’s ignition, which reads a breath sample from the driver and prevents the vehicle from starting if it detects alcohol in the sample.

How does the interlock device detect alcohol?

An ignition interlock has a fuel cell – a platinum electrode which actually removes alcohol from the breath by separating it into acetic acid and water. This chemical reaction produces a current which can be precisely measured. The greater the concentration of alcohol the higher the current.

Can an ignition interlock stop my vehicle?

Absolutely not. An interlock is connected to the ignition. It can only prevent a car or truck from starting. Once it’s going, the device can’t affect the vehicle.

Once I’ve started my vehicle, what’s to keep me from drinking?

After you’re underway, the ignition interlock will prompt you for another breath sample every once in a while. This is known as the “rolling re-test,” and is designed to prevent users from drinking alcohol after starting their vehicles.

If I fail a rolling re-test, will my car stop?

No. Once again, an ignition interlock cannot stop a vehicle in motion. You are given warnings if your alcohol level registers too high. If you fail a rolling re-test due to alcohol on your breath, your horn will sound repeatedly.

Who must install an ignition interlock in North Carolina?

Courts in North Carolina are required to order the installation of an ignition interlock if a person is driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 percent or greater. Drivers who are convicted of a previous impaired driving offense must also install the device after their second conviction. Also, drivers arrested for DWI who refuse a blood alcohol test must install the device.

How many North Carolina drivers have interlocks?

There are well over 10,000 ignition interlocks installed in vehicles in North Carolina. They are helping keep the roads safer.

Once I have my ignition interlock installed, what else do I have to do?

Two things: first, drive sober. The second is to come in regularly for a monitoring appointment. Once every 30 or 60 days you will be required to bring your vehicle in so that the ignition interlock provider can download the monitoring data for the authorities. This is also when your device will be calibrated to ensure that readings are 100 percent accurate.

Is it possible to have a false positive test?

Occasionally food residue in the mouth can ferment and cause the device to issue a warning. When that happens, you just need to rinse out your mouth and you’ll be good to go. Some alcohol-based substances such as cologne, hand sanitizer and windshield washer fluid can also trigger the device, but with a little practice you can easily avoid a false positive.

How long must I have my ignition interlock installed?

Interlock terms vary depending on the situation. Usually the more previous convictions, the longer the term. One year is the standard starting term, though in extreme cases the device can be ordered for a 10-year term.

Can other people use my interlock-equipped vehicle?

Yes. It takes a few minutes of training to use an ignition interlock. When the device is installed you’re instructed in its use. Monitech Ignition Interlock is happy to train any additional users free of charge.

However, please note that as the one ordered to install the ignition interlock, you are responsible for any violations that your device registers. So make sure that other users have not consumed any alcohol.

What happens if I drive without my ignition interlock?

Driving without an ordered North Carolina ignition interlock is illegal. The penalty is revocation of all driving privileges for one additional year.

Where can I get more information about North Carolina ignition interlock use?

Monitech Ignition Interlock has robust customer support. Also, check with NCDOT if you need information on the North Carolina ignition interlock program.

high school binge drinkingSome bad news from the CDC. We all know that teens drink, whether parents allow them to or not. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that more than half – about 58 percent – of high school students who drink are binge drinkers.

One one level, it’s an obvious finding. Teens generally overdo things – they’re binge video gamers, binge Frisbee players, binge music listeners, binge social networkers. When they find something fun, they tend to push the end of the envelope.

On another level, high school binge drinking is very disturbing. Binge drinking can be deadly, especially in young people, whose brains are not fully developed. Teens who drink are more likely to develop alcohol dependence. Alcohol can also cause problems with memory, motor skills and brain function.

The CDC defines binge drinking as five or more drinks in a row.

Why High School Binge Drinking Matters

Excessive drinking takes about 4,300 under-21 lives each year. Many students who binge drink do so at a high intensity – 8 or more drinks in a row.

Alcohol use in teens can lead to emotional problems, relationship difficulties, school and job problems, sexual assault and domestic violence. Physical consequences can include more frequent injuries, liver, brain, and nerve damage.

Teen Drinking: What Can Be Done?

The CDC report calls for use of evidence-based prevention strategies for excessive high school binge drinking.

  • Increasing alcohol taxes.
  • Regulating alcohol outlet density.
  • Instituting commercial host liability laws (laws which hold establishments liable for damages caused by teen drinking that occurs at that establishment). This is different from standard underage drinking laws, which prosecute the serving. Dram shop laws, as they are commonly known, make servers consider the damage that their drinking could cause – drunk driving collisions, alcohol poisoning, and injury.

There is also evidence that talking to teens works, provided it’s done early enough and in the right spirit. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) offers some guidance on how parents can approach this difficult but vital subject with their kids.

The CDC report on high school binge drinking might not come as a surprise – but it should be a call to action nonetheless. These are our kids, and they deserve a chance for a healthy, safe future.

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