In April, 2012 the Commonwealth of Virginia joined the list of states that mandate ignition interlock devices for first time OVI offenders. Currently, Ohio grants judges discretion when to require the device for first time offenders. An ignition interlock device prevents a vehicle from starting if the person blowing into the device has a low level of detectible alcohol on the person’s breath. The device also requires “rolling re-tests” at random intervals while the vehicle is in motion. More recently, David L. Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) spoke out in favor of making first-offenders install ignition interlock devices nationwide

Superficially, a requirement for ignition interlock devices on OVI offenders is a good idea. The offender receives limited driving privileges allowing the offender to maintain employment and attend treatment. Society is protected from the threat of a repeat OVI offender. Finally, the offender is educated by his own body’s physiology and the machine about the amount of alcohol that is safe to consume prior to operation. Upon closer inspection, the costs outweigh the benefits.

Primary among problems with the device are the costs. Frequently, the company installing the device mandates an installation and calibration fee. The company always charges a daily fee ranging from $3-10 per day. Over a twelve-month period, an ignition interlock device can cost over $1,000.00. Once convicted of OVI, an offender stares down a barrel of thousands of dollars in fees. In Ohio, a first OVI conviction carries a mandatory minimum fine of $375.00 plus a three-day stay in jail or a driver’s intervention program, which may cost over $500.00. Often an offender will be ordered to undergo alcohol counseling and treatment at a licensed facility with costs that can be astronomical. A probation officer monitors progress through these and other court-ordered requirements; the probation officer has a fee as well. Following an OVI license suspension, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles requires a $475.00 reinstatement fee. Frequently auto insurance costs rise following an OVI. To make matters worse, many employers treat OVI as a terminable offense. With no employment, facing thousands of dollars in fines, and a variety of tasks to complete for a probation officer the additional cost of an ignition interlock device becomes unbearable for many people.

Many reply to the cost argument that if an offender chose to drink and drive then the offender must deal with the consequences. Notwithstanding the fact that those financial consequences affect not only the offender, but also the offender’s innocent family, the devices are ill suited to their primary task. Breath alcohol content measurement is a scientific experiment. Like all scientific experiments, margins of error factors into calculations and operations. The device must be calibrated to the primary driver of the vehicle. Realistically, multiple people operate a single vehicle. Over-the-limit tests are reported strictly against the offender as many machines have no way of knowing who is blowing into the machine. Further, the device is essentially “hacked” into the vehicle’s ignition system. Frayed wires, improper installation and mechanical failure can lead to any number of mechanical problems. No scientific test should be performed in an environment as uncontrollable as a vehicle. Finally, anecdotal evidence suggests menthol cigarettes, cough drops, coffee creamers, cinnamon, hairspray, perfume and baked goods are among the numerous items that can cause false positives. Until the problems with the device can be resolved, the government should shy from mandating them in all cases.

For those in favor of small government, mandating use of an ignition interlock device presents a special problem. Most everyone has heard of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the national organization that has promoted stiffer penalties and stricter laws on OVI offenses. Smart Start, the nations leading producer of ignition interlock devices, has been a contributor to the MADD campaign. When political action committees, like MADD, lobby on behalf of a private corporation, like Smart Start, government becomes co-opted by private interests and our elected representatives have shirked their duties to protect the public good. The excessively close relationship between MADD and Smart Start reminds us of the
shady deal former Ohio Director of Health Dean Ward made when purchasing the Intoxilyzer 8000.

Finally, the “rolling re-test” can hardly be considered a safe practice. While the vehicle is driving down the road, the device emits a tone alerting the driver that the machine requires another sample. The driver must take her eyes off the road, find the tube, place the tube into her mouth and emit enough air to constitute a sufficient sample. At least one man passed out and crashed during a “rolling re-test” and he is suing the manufacturer of the device. It is axiomatic that distracted driving is as deadly, if not more deadly, as drunk driving. How can legislators rationally believe adding additional distractions to the interior of a vehicle benefits society?

If you’ve been charged with OVI in Ohio, you need to call a lawyer who understands the intricacies of how the charges affect your life. You need a lawyer willing to fight to keep irrational penalties out of the picture. The Law Office of Brian Jones understands how an OVI changes your life. If you or a loved one is facing an OVI charge, contact an OVI attorney now. You don’t want to regret it later.