Thursday, January 01, 2009

Alaska Rings In 2009 With Implementation Of HB19, A Tougher DUI Ignition Interlock Law, But The Devices Have Their Defects

Happy New Year to all Alaska Pride readers! The Anchorage Daily News has rung in the New Year by publishing a story about Alaska's new DUI ignition interlock law, which takes effect today. It mandates the more widespread use of these devices by DUI offenders, extending it to first-time offenders as well. KTUU Channel 2 has also run a story. Designated HB19, the bill was written by then Rep. Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage), passed, and signed into law on June 22nd, 2008 (see previous post from April 3rd, 2008 for more background). One of the key co-sponsors was Rep. Harry Crawford (D-East Anchorage), who became personally involved with this issue when his wife was struck and seriously injured by an inebriated driver on a narrow, poorly-lit road on Christmas Eve in 2004.

Read the full text of HB19 HERE. Highlights addressed below:

-- Device mandatory for 12 months for a first-time offender
-- Two years after a second conviction
-- Three years for someone convicted three times of driving under the influence
-- Additional convictions require the devices for as long as the person is on probation.
-- Interlock limitation to be annotated on drivers' license
-- Criminalizes renting or loaning a car to a driver with such a limited license
-- Alaska cities required to adopt similar legislation

The Anchorage Assembly unanimously passed an ordinance in mid-December that brings city laws into line with the new state statute and will allow judges to impose the requirements on people arrested by local police.

So just what is an ignition interlock system? According to 1800duilaws, it is a sophisticated system that tests for alcohol on a driver's breath. The device requires a vehicle operator to blow into a small handheld alcohol sensor unit that is attached to a vehicle's dashboard. The car cannot be started if a BAC is above a preset level (usually .02 to .04 BAC). Alcohol safety interlocks that meet the standards issued by National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (see the See NHTSA Conforming Products List and Technical Information Regarding Alcohol and Drug Law Enforcement Technology) not only require a test to start the engine, but also require a test every few minutes while driving. Called the "rolling or running retest," it prevents another person from starting the car and then allowing an impaired driver from taking over the wheel (NHTSA guidelines call for only one subsequent test and the Alberta, Canada standard calls for multiple running retests). With modern safeguards, alcohol safety interlocks are extremely difficult to circumvent when properly installed and monitored every 30 to 60 days. The cost? According to Babette Miller, owner of Smart Start of Alaska, the device can be installed in about an hour and a half. During that time, a 10- to 15-minute instructional video is shown. The device costs between $100 and $150 to install, plus a monthly lease of $125.

However, while ignition interlock devices sound like a sensible passive control feature on the surface, like other human inventions, they have their weaknesses and imperfections as well. They must be properly installed and monitored to initially work properly. Even then, there is no guarantee that they will continue to work properly. In some cases, the cure may actually be worse than the disease.

A comment posted on July 6th, 2007 to this post on Lawrence Taylor's DUI blog discloses the myriad of technological problems associated with these devices:

Interlock Installed 06/09/07

First, I haven’t had anything to drink in over four years.

I have a Draeger Interlock installed in my car (pre-XT) model as that’s all that was available from the one local dealer. My problem is that it doesn’t work as it should which creates frustrating and potentially dangerous situations due to the amount of extra attention required.

To begin with, you have to suck/blow just right!

Blowing Problems
1. Didn’t suck hard enough.
2. Didn’t suck/blow quickly enough.
3. Blew too soft.
4. Blew too hard.
5. Didn’t blow long enough.
6. Any combination of the above.

You are allowed 10 tries in theory before a lockout scenario.

First Problem 06/13/07: The first time I failed was for a re-test just as I was getting ready to turn car off and get gas. After several tries, the horn blew. After a few more the horn started blowing every 20 seconds and the lights are flashing. Now, I’m driving through a busy suburban neighborhood with the horn and lights going while trying to get the interlock to accept a blow test. Finally about 10-15 minutes and 20-25 attempts, it accepted the test and passed me which stopped the horn and lights.

Second Problem 06/23/07: The second time I was at a hot construction site and after 10 tries before starting, the car went into lockdown for 15 minutes before I was allowed try again (which I did and got it started).

Third Problem 06/29/07: The third time I had a problem. I got a re-test and after 6-7 blows, it said disabled and while I was driving and started a 15 min lockout countdown. Two and one-half minutes later at a congested traffic light, the horn and lights started going off. I pulled into a parking lot and turned the car off till the remainder of the 15 minutes expired and allowed me to restart the car. [Note: The first & third problems are contradictory as to how it’s supposed to function. I believe the third is what was supposed to happen. None the less, getting this to work as it should has become a real problem in itself].

Fourth Problem 07/05/07: The fourth problem today was that it totally lost its logic. I started the car and going down the interstate. Instead of the first 15 min re-test I was expecting, it said re-test after about 10 minutes. I blew and passed the rolling re-test. However, instead of putting dot’s on the screen it says “OK to Start” as if I was ready to start the car for the first time or had shut the car off and had a 4 min window to re-start without testing. It was stuck in a loop. Every 4 minutes now going down the interstate it’s goes into a 10 sec warm-up countdown and asks for another test as if the car had not been started. Each time I pass it say’s “Ok to Start” again and waits another 4 minutes. The bottom line is it’s unable to distinguish whether the car is turned on or off.

Design flaw: It has a display measuring bars which can’t be seen while taking the test. It also provides to tones to gauges the success or not of a test. Being hearing impaired, I cannot hear the high-pitched tones (which are the first to go with a hearing loss). There is no volume control, tone adjustments, or options for external amp/speakers. I have currently overcome this by buying a $25 2″ amp with a microphone and headphone jack from Radio Shack and taping it to the back of the box. This means turning on the amp and inserting an ear-bud in addition to having to turn the stereo down and the air conditioning off every time this ask for a re-test all while under a 5 minute time restraint while driving.

Comment by james50plus — July 6, 2007 @ 8:01 am

Mind you, the experiences cited above may be atypical, and the technology has undoubtedly improved during the past 18 months, but the account represents nearly every significant problem that can surface with this technology. While it may be ridding our streets of drunk drivers, we may be replacing them with DISTRACTED drivers. Would you want to be T-boned at an intersection by a driver who's distracted by a malfunctioning ignition interlock?

Lawrence Taylor is a prominent California attorney who's represented thousands of clients in DUI cases. His commentary and expertise even attracted the attention of Business Week magazine. They published an article on ignition interlock devices, in which he criticized their broad-brush approach. He maintains the real DUI problem is not generated by the majority of drinker who are merely social drinkers, but a much smaller number of problem drinkers who are repeat offenders.

However, extremist groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID) believe that all social drinkers will become problem drinkers (RID is so radical they want a national .05 standard). So they embrace slippery-slope theory and promote pre-emption. Taylor reveals that Mothers Against Drunk Driving are behind the push towards interlocking first-time DUI offenders. In addition, MADD is promoting the idea of equipping all new cars with this technology in the future. Furthermore, Taylor also reveals that MADD has been the recipient of windfall contributions from a number of corporations. If you review MADD’s 2005 Annual Report, you will find a list of their top contributors – those ”Platinum Corporate Donors” who have paid MADD at least $100,000. There are six: Dial America Marketing, Nationwide Mutual Insurance, Nissan North America, Daimler Chrysler Corporation, Car Max Foundation and General Motors Corporation (makers of Saab). Yes, three car manufacturers…and a telemarketer heavily used by MADD.

Lawrence Taylor has a sound approach - discriminate between social drinkers and problem drinkers. The problem drinkers are those who have multiple DUIs or who have killed or injured anyone in any DUI. The interlock device should always be mandatory for them. With social drinkers who incur an initial simple DUI (no injury, fatality, or property damage), the device should be voluntary, and incentives provided to induce voluntary use. The Alaska State Legislature meant well, but took another step towards tyranny under the innocent-sounding guise of "DUI enforcement".

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