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Former Traffic Court Judge Serving New York and New Jersey

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How ignition interlock devices work

A New York driver who is arrested for a drug- or alcohol-related driving offense can be subject to multiple forms of criminal penalties if convicted. The required use of an ignition interlock device is one such consequence. Understanding how these devices work can be important when facing such a consequence.

An ignition interlock device is a combination of a breath test unit and a computer chip that communicates with the testing device and ultimately controls a vehicle’s ignition. LifeSafer is one of the companies that manufacture and provides IIDs to people convicted of drunk driving offenses. The breath test unit is mounted on the driver’s dashboard while the chip is installed into the ignition. 

Before a driver can start a vehicle, a breath sample is required. The data from the sample indicates the driver’s blood alcohol content and is sent to the chip. If the BAC is higher than legally allowed, the chip retains a lock on the ignition. If the BAC is below the allowed limit, the ignition is unlocked, allowing the driver to operate the vehicle. This process must be repeated every time the driver enters the vehicle.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, along with the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, conducted testing last year on new IID technology. Two prototypes were tested, one of which captured blood alcohol level information via infrared-activated touch sensors. These would be built into a new car’s steering wheel rather than temporarily added after a DUI or other conviction. No timeframe is given for actual use of this technology at this time.

While fines, points on a driving record and even jail time are penalties designed largely to punish drivers who are convicted of DWI or other charges, the use of IIDs is required in part to prevent further offenses. This penalty and its associated length of use varies from case to case.

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