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The Hidden Downside To Mandated Vehicle Breathalyzers

Drivers in New Jersey convicted of drunk driving are required to install small breathalyzers in their personal vehicles. The breathalyzers are devices called ignition interlock. These devices are directly wired into a car’s ignition system, most notably the steering column, and serves as a precaution against driving drunk. The ignition interlock device will not allow a driver to start or operate their car until he or she blows into its mouthpiece.

While on the road, the interlock will request additional breath samples to ensure that the driver is sober. The tests are known as rolling retests and are checked at random. The driver won’t know when to breathe into the cellphone sized device until it indicates the retest. If the driver does not provide a breath sample when the interlock device demands one, the vehicle goes into panic mode. Contrary to a popular misconception, the car will not shut off its engine if a breath sample is not provided or if the driver produces a high alcohol level during the rolling retest. Instead, the interlock device will log the event, warn the driver, and the car will start honking and flashing its lights until the vehicle is turned off or provided an acceptable sobriety sample.

Ignition interlock devices have prevented thousands of accidents and states that mandate these devices for drivers convicted of drunk driving have seen 15% fewer fatal car accidents. However, the device may not be entirely risk-free, and though created to hinder accidents, ignition interlock devices in some cases have also caused them.

Drivers who were once convicted of drunken driving, but who have since complied with the law find themselves at a higher risk of causing accidents due to rolling retests on ignition interlock devices.

In November 2017, Blake Cowan struck Alexis Butler’s car while she was backing out of her driveway. Cowan, at the time, was required to provide a rolling retest to prove his sobriety while driving. Though he passed the retest, Cowan dropped the device on the floor and tried to retrieve it in case he needed to provide more rolling retests. Trying to reach for the device, Cowan became distracted, and subsequently hit Butler’s car.

Tragically, Butler passed away a week later from her injuries. Two months after the accident, Cowan pleaded guilty and was charged with manslaughter. He’s serving 16 years in prison, and according to his lawyer, Charles Smith, Cowan has tried to commit suicide twice.

Unfortunate events, such as Cowan’s case, have raised questions on the safety of ignition interlock devices and rolling retests. For drivers who are trying to rectify their wrongs, they face strict penalties that may become a double-edged sword. At the risk of doing the right thing, Cowan caused an accident that landed him with a higher criminal conviction and a lengthy prison term. For drivers in New Jersey who face a similar situation, it is crucial to seek the counsel of a DUI attorney in Cherry Hill, NJ, as soon as possible. Convictions involving death lead to severe consequences, and a knowledgeable attorney can identify the best solutions for these types of criminal charges.

The number of ignition interlock devices installed in vehicles is currently rising. An annual industry report estimates that there are about 350,000 people in the United States who have the devices in their cars. Though not all states require the installation of interlocks, there are 34 states mandate the device if a person is convicted of drunk driving, even if it’s their first offense.

Similar laws mandating ignition interlock devices throughout more states are underway, and legislation demanding that all new vehicles carry a version of the device is also being considered. If the legislation passes, new vehicles could be carrying a version of the interlock device as early as 2024.

However, the downsides to interlocks that exist are hidden behind the positive attention that the ignition devices receive. The potential for a driver to become distracted while operating their vehicle due to rolling retests is not fully disclosed or made widely public. The companies responsible for manufacturing ignition interlock devices seem more concerned with burying or discrediting any negative implications.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal regulator in charge of vehicle safety equipment standards, drafted a document in 2010 stating that the agency “does not intend” that drivers perform rolling retests. Instead, the agency advises that the driver should be stopped on the side of the road for rolling retests.

However, the industry surrounding interlocks opposed the remarks made by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Interlock industry leaders argued that rolling retests were safe and that expecting drivers to pull over was impractical.

The president of LifeSafer, a vendor for interlock devices, wrote to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, mentioning that the majority of rolling retests occur while a car is moving.

With other vendors and manufacturers conveying the same reaction, the federal regulator relented. In their 2013 guideline, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration demonstrated their concern about distracted driving and left the issue up to the states and local jurisdictions to manage.

The federal regulator, vendors, and manufacturers may have tucked the issue of distracted driving and rolling retests aside, but the fact remains that accidents due to interlocks often occur.

Research by The New York Times of accidents and lawsuits due to ignition interlock devices revealed numerous cases. For instance, in California, a man hit another vehicle on a highway when he crossed the line dividing the lanes while trying to perform a rolling retest. The driver attempting the retest injured a woman and killed her husband.

In Pennsylvania, a man blew so hard into his device that he blacked out and crashed into a tree. The driver almost severed his left hand. Another driver missed a curve in the road while reaching for his interlock device and woke up after someone else was trying to tell him that he was in an accident.

Aside from accidents from distracted driving caused by ignition interlock devices, the breathalyzers can give false positives. When a driver blows into the mouthpiece, a false positive can be triggered by certain foods, snacks, mouthwash, breath mints, toothpaste, and gum. Doughnuts and chocolate can even result in a false positive.

Smart Start, an industry leader in interlocks, advises that drivers stay away from sugary snacks and the like before blowing into the device. False positives can lead to serious legal repercussions. A person can land in court to face the consequences. It is imperative to involve an experienced Cherry Hill DUI attorney who can help argue against false charges.

The legal system is complex and a skilled DUI attorney in Cherry Hill, NJ can fight to protect a driver’s rights against false allegations or even a lapse in judgment that results in harsh consequences and charges.

News Source: www.chicagotribune.com

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