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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Breathalyser based vehicle ignition interlocks.

03 December, 2007
Florida anti drink driving group lobbies for change in law to include the use of ignition interlocks triggered by breath samples as a means of preventing repeat drink driving offenders from taking the wheel.
Florida is in the spotlight again concerning its appalling drink driving record and the methods it uses to combat the problem. Last time they were in the news, we highlighted the inadequacy of delegating law enforcement responsibilities to a group of willing amateurs, most of whom have been touched by the effects of drink driving on victims and as such are unlikely to be as impartial as true justice would require.

However, that same group is now putting significant pressure on the state government to include the use of ignition interlocks for convicted offenders in an effort to prevent them from re-offending which is certainly progress in the right direction.

Already in use in a number of states including Arizona and South Carolina, the interlocks operate by requiring the vehicle driver to submit a breath sample which is analysed for alcohol content. If the breath test fails, the vehicle can't be started. Also, all attempts to drive the vehicle, whether successful or not, are logged and can be subsequently reviewed. The technology of these devices differs from evidential breathalysers and are not as accurate but they are more tuned to alcohol specifically so are less likely to give false positives and are accurate enough to detect against pre-defined breath alcohol levels which can be input into the device and calibrated, thus providing an effective method of preventing drunk drivers from using their cars.

There has been some criticism of the devices however and much of this has focussed on the potential ways of getting around the device. Most of these problems can be overcome but the most significant is the fact that the offender may have secondary undeclared vehicles which are not fitted with the device or the offender may simply choose not to fit it.

Other potential means of overriding the interlock mainly centre around such myths as whether it can be affected by a particularly spicy vindaloo curry for example. The reality is that there isn't much from the local Indian takeaway that can affect the interlocks but, not surprisingly, alcohol based mouth sprays and Tia Maria filled chocolates can. What may be surprising, and may cause distress to some of the state residents, is that the sugar and yeast contents in doughnuts can cause an effect. However, the manufacturers advise that rinsing the mouth out with water after having a doughnut will result in the breath test being negative.

The more serious problem of having a friend provide a breath sample is overcome by demanding periodic repeat tests during the journey.

Despite the tricks and the myths, there isn't any doubt that the use of ignition interlocks is effective to a large enough extent to make them worthwhile as a deterrent to repeat offenders. It is currently viewed exactly as a deterrent rather than a foolproof way of preventing drink driving. Indeed, the most persistent and dangerous repeat offenders are the most likely people to find an alternative means of driving and managing to circumvent the interlock program. Despite this, with Florida's record for deaths through drinking and driving, it is another step which could easily be taken to prevent further atrocities on their roads.
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