If you read the news across the country, it’s clear that the jury’s in regarding ignition interlocks: they work to reduce alcohol-related road deaths.  More and more states are mandating the devices for all drunk drivers, including first offenders. Other states are tightening up their laws and regulations so the devices are used more effectively.

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

No public policy decision is unanimous, and there are those who oppose wider adoption of ignition interlocks even though they are proven to save lives. Here are the most common objections, as well as the facts that undercut them:

Mandatory interlocks limit judicial discretion.
FALSE. It’s true that judges like to have room to decide for themselves how each drunk driving case is handled, and that a mandatory ignition interlock law means that they can’t give a break to an offender. However, this isn’t really a problem, because an ignition interlock is not a particularly severe punishment – it’s just a device that checks if a driver is sober before he or she starts the car. If you’re not in the habit of driving drunk, it’s a small inconvenience at best. And if you are, it’s a crucial protection for others on the road.

Interlocks can be bypassed.
FALSE. You always read claims – the comment section is rife with them – that ignition interlocks are easy to bypass so the user can drive drunk. That’s far from the truth.

Any tampering will be revealed when the data is downloaded, reviewed, and sent to authorities (in most states every month). If the vehicle was started without a test, that will show up and the offender will be in violation. The offender can borrow a vehicle, but the data includes reporting if a vehicle isn’t driven a sufficient number of miles.

Interlocks are too lenient.
FALSE. This is the flip side of the first argument – that drunk drivers should not be driving at all after a conviction. And while this is an understandable position, it poses problems.

  • Suspensions don’t work. More than half of suspended drivers drive anyway.
  • Many people’s livelihood depends on driving. Forcing someone out of a job, or making them unable to take kids to school, does nothing but wreck lives and increase the offender’s personal problems. If we’re trying to get people to deal with alcohol problems, we shouldn’t ruin their lives first.

Ignition Interlocks: You Can’t Argue With Success

There is a national trend toward adopting ignition interlocks because they have been found to work, and states that aren’t on board yet want to experience the success that early adopters have found. The first year of its interlock law, New Mexico’s alcohol-related road fatality dropped 40 percent. Other states have seen drops – not always as dramatic as New Mexico’s, but impressive. NHTSA and NTSB are on record as supporters of ignition interlocks as a vital protection that saves innocent lives.

If you’re suspicious of ignition interlocks, take a look at the literature, examine the studies, and then get with the program. Lives depend on it.

North Carolina DWI offender with interlockOver the past two decades ignition interlocks have emerged as the most important anti-drunk driving technology yet developed. The car breathalyzer devices prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Usually they are ordered to be installed on a North Carolina DWI offender’s vehicle by the court or a DMV. When installed and used properly, they reduce significantly incidences of drunk driving.

The key is “when installed and used properly.” Pete Andrews, Regional Director of Monitech Ignition Interlock, spoke about a problem that needs to be addressed in the company’s home state of Morrisville, North Carolina: more than 70 percent of DWI offenders who are ordered to install an ignition interlock don’t do so. They go on driving, illegally and uninsured, and possibly intoxicated as well.

In an interview in Attorney at Law Magazine, Andrews noted that there are measures designed to penalize those who don’t install the device, including fines and possible jail time. But clearly they are not doing the job.

Needed: Better Interlock Compliance

Clearly the problem is not with ignition interlock devices, which work to prevent people from drinking and driving, but with a system that does not fully supervise the installation of the devices.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), ignition interlocks have prevented more than 14,000 North Carolina DWI incidents since the devices were introduced there.  It’s hard to overstate the effect that those “Fail” messages have had on public safety in the state.

The devices could do even better. Here are some problems that need to be addressed.

  • 45-day waiting period. After conviction in North Carolina, an offender must wait 45 days before getting an ignition interlock. During that time they are not supposed to drive. “But they drive anyway,” says Andrews. “They do it once, then they get braver as they postpone getting their ignition interlock.” Allowing offenders to install in interlock immediately – pre-trial, as some states allow – would result in more compliance and better public safety. The state could incentivize interlock installation. Judges, for one, might look more kindly on offenders who demonstrated their commitment to sober driving right off the bat.
  • Poor tracking. Andrews notes that many people decide to wait out their ignition interlock term, which is illegal. “They feel that it’s not breaking the law as aggressively as if they actually drive on a suspended license. They take their chances.” Moreover, if they haven’t enrolled in the interlock program, there’s no agency expecting interlock monitoring data, so no one will try to bring them into the program.
  • No way to contact offenders. Some states release DWI data so that interlock companies can approach offenders and let them know about the program. This practice also results in higher compliance, but North Carolina doesn’t do it.

As Andrews mentioned in the article, the number of people who die due to alcohol on North Carolina’s roads is above the national average.  The above problems can be addressed to ensure ignition interlock compliance, as other states have done. North Carolina has some work to do if it wants to catch up. The important point is that the state needs to commit to a program that will, if properly managed, save North Carolina lives.

kiss - mouthwash with ignition interlock

Ignition interlocks have one purpose – to keep a driver from starting a vehicle if he or she has been drinking. And the devices do that well. Sometimes they appear to do it too well: the devices do such a good job detecting alcohol that they register a fail for reasons other than drinking – like mouthwash.

That’s a feature, not a bug – the interlocks are doing their job. Many over-the-counter mouthwashes contain alcohol, and after you rinse your mouth with them, the alcohol remains and will cause you to fail your ignition interlock breath test. Alcohol has its own chemical signature, whether it comes from a bottle of mouthwash or a bottle of gin, and the interlock’s fuel cell will detect it no matter where it comes from.

Fresh Breath vs DUI – What to Do?

It’s not necessary to sacrifice clean breath in order to avoid getting locked out of your vehicle and in possible DUI penalties. Here’s how to handle the situation.

  • Rinse your mouth with water before the test. This is always a good idea, as bits of food can also ferment and cause an alcohol reading.
  • Use a non-alcohol mouthwash. Many brands today do not contain ethanol – check the label. It’s still a good idea to rinse with water, though.

Are you missing out if you choose a mouthwash without alcohol? It appears not. The main use of the alcohol is to dissolve and stabilize the oils that carry the flavors and scents in the mouthwash. Manufacturers have found other ways of doing that, don’t feel left out.

So keep that bottle of water close by, and enjoy your date.

alcohol in food - cooking flambe steakYou’re driving back from a restaurant after a sumptuous meal. A police officer pulls you over – maybe you forgot to signal, or maybe it’s the proverbial broken taillight. Just then you remember that, while you didn’t drink, you had a dish smothered in wine sauce. Do you need to fear the breathalyzer?

The answer might surprise you. While it’s pretty much impossible to get drunk on food cooked with standard recipes that use alcohol as a binder or seasoning, trace amounts could remain in your mouth afterwards. Since you generally don’t brush your teeth before driving home from a restaurant, the alcohol on your breath might register on a breathalyzer. If you were later given a blood test to confirm whether or not you were intoxicated, you would be clean. But that’s still a messy outcome.

How Much Alcohol Is In Your Meal?

We’re told that alcohol “burns off” during cooking, but that’s not true. Much of the alcohol in food, whether used to deglaze a pan, add tang to a sauce, or flavor to a cake – is retained. The question is whether it’s enough to raise your blood alcohol concentration level. The answer is that it rarely is enough.

The USDA and two universities did a study on alcohol retention in cooking. A summary can be found at New York’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services site. The upshot: the most common cooking methods that employ alcohol leave some of it in the final dish. Sometimes that can be half or more of the original amount.

But remember that the amount needs to be divided by serving size. So if a cup of beer is added to a stew, and 45 percent of the alcohol remains after a half hour of simmering, that’s perhaps half an ounce of alcohol divided by how many servings of stew the pot contains. Not enough to make you weave on the highway.

Foods to Watch Out For

There are a few exceptions. While penne in vodka tomato sauce won’t push the breathalyzer needle – at least not if you rinse out your mouth before blowing – some foods are actually designed to have a kick. Specialty food companies make booze-infused canapés and treats. And there are a number of rum- and bourbon-soaked desserts that could have an effect, particularly on people who are easily intoxicated.

Another caveat: there are people who need to avoid alcohol completely, due to an allergy, alcoholism, or because they are taking Antabuse, a drug which reacts with alcohol. The amount of alcohol in food might be too much for them.

Ignition Interlocks and Wine Sauce

If you have an ignition interlock in your vehicle, you’ve received training on how to avoid problems with trace amounts of food setting off the device and causing a false positive. A simple mouth rinse with water is all it takes to blow a “go” and get back on the road.

While the old assurance that alcohol “burns off in cooking” is wrong, most people don’t have to worry. It’s the alcohol in the glass beside the dish that needs to be controlled. When people are hauled before a judge for DUI, chances are it is bad judgement, not the marinara sauce, that is to blame.

woman-cant-understand-theft-at-dwi-crashNo good deed goes unpunished. And when you’re helping people who are inclined to make bad decisions, don’t be surprised if one of those bad decisions is to try and mess you up. It happened in Wake County last weekend.

It started with a DWI crash on I-40. Both cars were unable to move after the crash, and one driver, Juan Diega Martinez, was injured. A man described on the news as a Good Samaritan stopped to give medical assistance to Martinez. While he did so, the other driver’s passenger, one Lauren Starks, stole his SUV.

Eventually Starks was caught. The upshot:

  • Martinez was charged with DWI
  • The other driver in the crash was charged with DWI
  • Starks was charged with DWI (yes, she was impaired as well as impulsive) and car theft
  • The Good Samaritan is probably rethinking the percentages on being a Good Samaritan at a DWI crash

So, what are the chances that one drunk driver will hit another drunk driver? Probably a bit better than you think. An alert driver who spots a drunk driver might be able to react quickly and prevent a crash, though sadly it doesn’t always happen. But not only is a drunk driver much more likely to crash, he or she is much less likely to avoid a crash, as alcohol diminishes reaction time, impairs hearing and vision, and makes concentration much more difficult. You need those faculties to drive safely, and to avoid others who are driving recklessly.

Even if you’re sober, that won’t protect you from someone who tries to steal your car while you’re out doing a good deed on the roadside. That’s also a good example of bad judgement caused by alcohol. Unfortunately, not even an ignition interlock can prevent someone from jumping into a Good Samaritan’s car. For that, we have police, and they had plenty to do on I-40 last weekend.

There are two big reasons for avoiding drunk driving in Arizona or anywhere else. The first is that it’s extremely dangerous. The second is that if you’re caught, you’re in for a miserable time from law enforcement and the courts.

In May Southern Arizona is adding some extra weight to the second reason: the Southern Arizona DUI Task Force is stepping up operations for the month, adding saturation patrols every weekend. The patrols will be on the lookout for impaired drivers on the roads and streets.

Why May? Three things happen this month that, unfortunately, give rise to increased numbers of DUI drivers:

  • Cinco de Mayo. This one’s already happened, and it’s a good thing the patrols were there. According to news reports a number of the drivers arrested had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above 3.0 – that’s almost four times the legal limit, and a truly frightening level of intoxication for anyone operating two tons of steel at highway speeds.
  • Graduations. It’s a big thing to graduate from high school or college. But as we know, young brains, though full of knowledge from school, are not fully formed. One of the key areas in which under-25s remain deficient is judgement, and that can lead to bad decisions like drunk driving. Add that to teens’ and twentysomethings’ feeling of invincibility, and it’s easy to see why that age group is over-represented in DUI statistics.
  • Memorial Day. A three-day weekend is big in hardworking America, and the prospect of a barbecue on a warm day will probably include large amounts of beer. If people plan properly it shouldn’t lead to a drunk driving arrest, but for many people it does.

You don’t need any more reasons to give drunk driving in Arizona a pass. But if you have any friends or relatives who are short on good judgement, remind them that they have a better chance of landing in jail, paying large fines, having an ignition interlock requirement, and getting a DUI on their record this month. Maybe it’ll prevent an arrest – or a tragedy.

Yuma cinco de mayo dui patrol carCinco de Mayo is a holiday that has made a big impression on the US. Just as on St. Patrick’s Day the joys of being Irish are celebrated by people whose ancestors hailed from Oslo and Bangalore, in Yuma Cinco de Mayo given the full treatment by all who like a good party, regardless of their connection to Mexico. A good many of the revelers aren’t even aware of the holiday’s history, but that doesn’t matter – it’s a good excuse to drink.

The City of Yuma Police Department is aware of the attraction of Cinco de Mayo weekend. That’s why their impaired driving detail will begin on the day before the holiday – Friday, May 4 – and extend through Sunday the 6 of May.

Police will be out on the city streets looking for signs that drivers are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you don’t want to get nabbed, there is an excellent strategy you can use:

  • Don’t drink and drive
  • Plan your ride home – or a place to stay over – before you go out to party
  • If you’re holding a Cinco de Mayo party, keep track of how much your guests drink. Make sure they aren’t planning a drive home if they’re impaired. Yes – it’s your responsibility!
  • If you are the designated driver, do the right thing and do not drink at all
  • If you’re out on the road, watch out for impaired drivers
  • If you see a drunk driver, call 911

All in all, not hard rules to follow. But chances are someone will break them, and we’ll be seeing their names and faces in the news. If you’d prefer not to be in that number, then please take care this Cinco de Mayo. And keep an eye out on the cuatro and the seis de Mayo as well. The police certainly will.

drunk driving psa wins high school contest

Prom night was coming up, so a group of students at Ripley High School in Ripley, West Virginia decided to warn their classmates about the dangers of drinking and driving. They produced a drunk driving PSA (public service announcement) that not only impressed the school – it went on to win first place in a statewide competition.

The video takes the point of view of a mother waiting up for a son who hasn’t come home. It doesn’t go into great detail – your imagination can fill in the details of what happened when some teens mixed it up with a case of beer and a car.

The video won first place in the fourth annual No School Spirits contest sponsored by the West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration. You can see the runner-up entries here.

If you’re going to get people thinking about drinking and driving, high school is the place to start, and having students exercise their creativity with a drunk driving PSA is a good way to do it. While the PSA probably won’t be seen by millions, the contest did get some smart high schoolers thinking about the problem of drinking and driving, and perhaps making up their minds not to be part of it.

drunk driver crashes 1939 Pontiac

Image: David Beaver – WBTV     

What is it about people? We tolerate all kinds of abuses, but don’t let anyone lay a hand on a puppy or a kitten.

And we don’t get mad enough about drunk drivers that ply the roads every day. But if the drunk driver crashes a classic ride, then it’s a tragedy.

Actually, we get it. We’ve evolved to have protective feelings about defenseless creatures like puppies. And in every car lover’s DNA is a sequence that causes untold suffering when a beautiful fender is bent on a fine old machine.

This time it happened in Salisbury, North Carolina. A woman named Cathy Wilhem was driving a 1939 Pontiac when she swerved too far left. She veered right to compensate, and hit a tree.

classic car crash

     How the car should look

The cause of her lack of control was impairment, for which Wilhelm was charged.

The car looks totaled, which is sad. But the true harm was to the owner, who was riding with Wilhelm and who sustained injuries which sent him to the hospital. Cars – even  classics – are replaceable things. People aren’t, and it is primarily for the protection of people that we try to prevent drunk driver crashes through DWI laws, ignition interlocks, and other measures.

We might well ask what possessed the owner of such a fine car to let a drunk person drive it. But we have to ask anyone who drinks and drives what they imagine justifies such a dangerous practice. Is life that cheap that it’s worth saving taxi fare to risk it?

If it takes puppies and kittens to get people stirred up, so be it. If it takes the sight of a beautiful classic car mangled on a North Carolina road to get people to understand the recklessness of drunk driving, then so be it. If you can’t work up sympathy for the victims, think of all those beautiful cars that meet a terrible end because someone failed to use a designated driver.

Next time we’ll talk about the tree they hit. Trees deserve better too.

6 months off Arizona ignition interlock Arizona got serious about drunk driving back in 2007, when one of the country’s first ignition interlock laws went into effect. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. The device has saved many lives since then – by MADD’s reckoning, more than 78,000 drunk driving incidents have been prevented by interlocks in Arizona.

If you have an Arizona ignition interlock installed, there is a program in place that will give you the opportunity to shorten your interlock term – the 6 month deferment.

Essentially, the MVD lets you take 6 months off your Arizona ignition interlock term if you’ve fulfilled some specific requirements:

  • Your violation occurred in 2012 or later
  • You had no prior DUIs for 7 years
  • The DUI did not involve a crash
  • You complete an alcohol education program of 16 hours
  • You have maintained your ignition interlock device without violations
  • You have not tried to drive with a BAC of .08 2 or more times
  • All compliance information has been supplied to the Arizona MVD

The deferment program works to everyone’s advantage. Offenders who can prove they approach driving responsibly get a break. And those who are more likely to reoffend will not be able to fulfil the requirements, so the interlock will continue to protect them – and everyone else on Arizona’s roadways.

If you have been successfully completing your Arizona ignition interlock program, you might be able to take advantage of the 6 month deferment program. Contact MVD for more information. The purpose of the Arizona ignition interlock requirement, ultimately, is to help those with DUI convictions to drive responsibly. If you’ve been doing that, you might have a break coming. It’s worth a call.

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