Can ignition interlock devices be a driving hazard?

In the absence of a parole officer, convicted drunk drivers are now taking breathalyzer tests before their car engines will even start…and they are breathing into the dashboard! Ignition interlock devices all over the U.S. require a BAC (blood alcohol consumption) level of .02-.04% before a car will start. But can the “rolling retest” for blood-alcohol levels endanger the lives of drivers and fellow travelers?

minute read

Ignition interlock devices are increasingly being installed on the dashoards of repeat DUI offenders. In fact, from 2001 to 2002 IID court orders increased almost 75%. The benefits are clear. IIDs prevents drunk driving by stopping would-be drunken drivers from turning on their cars. IID systems log and record each breathalyzer session to report back to courts. Routine service is required every 30-60-90 days, and failure to service will lead to a permanent lockout.

But critics look at the random “rolling tests” as possible highway hazards. These rolling re-tests occur five minutes after ignition and then randomly in 5-30 minutes increments to prevent the possibility of a sober friend from assisting an intoxicated driver and breathing into the IID to start the engine. Three consecutive refusals to provide a rolling retest, or three breath tests over the set point will start the horn honking and emergency lights flashing.


Breathing into a breathalyzer while driving (sometimes for 6 seconds) is, to me, a real risk. Simply put, I wouldn’t want to be driving down the road and have someone coming the other way trying to blow into a tube. I was witness to an accident where a driver looked down to change the radio station. How long does THAT take?

If possible, I’d suggest that the manufacturers create a 5 minute window during which time a driver can pull over and safely administer the test again. Impairment via distraction can cause serious harm during driving. Rolling retests are designed to remove the possibility of a fraudulent first test, but I think that while the technology is rather new and in its beginning phases, the re-test needs amendment.

What do you think? Are IIDs doing more good than harm? Should manufacturers continue to evolve the technology? Is the rolling re-test a good idea at all? Are you ready to take action, like MADD’s call for advocacy and support IID legislation?

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. If been sober and went to a friends house and had cake foundout after the fact it was lace with cordial like amaretto and u Neaver had that tested and was positive. How can u day your At fault not knowing.. U still pay the liability?

  2. I have a great idea, a rectal insert that monitors everything everyone is doing at any minute of every day of every week of every month of every year!!! (Except the politicians, bankers and corporate leaders of course, they can do and get away with any and everything – just like now). This country is a joke, Ignition Interlock Devices are a major hazard and need to be abolished but they won’t because big business lobbying is behind them and politicians are cheap, they’d sell their mothers for a seat and bang yours just for fun with you watching while she smiles! Good luck America, I’m outta here.

  3. I hear you. We Americans are big on free choice. Check out this recent Newsweek article in which a discussion is brewing about government roles in health care. Because it seems that the biggest risk to our health is ourselves. Pretty appropriate for addicts, eh? But if you saw the most recent episode of the Office, even Michael couldn’t drag Meredith to rehab against her will. So I don’t know how well government laws mandating anything go over until they’re mainstream.

  4. Absolutely not! I think that this will come to one of those questions of what I should decide for myself and what the government should decide for me while operating a personal motor vehicle. I will use the example of mandatory seatbelts. Although better overall, should it be a requirement, punishable by fine, if not adhered to? Clearly there would be less drunk drivers on the road. That’s a positive. I guess it is a matter of what people are willing to sacrifice in order to have a little extra safety. I might have changed my mind. I guess I’m not totally opposed to it, just mostly opposed.

  5. I agree. It’s certainly better than nothing. What I’m reading about, which is worrisome is that the manufacturers are pushing to make IIDs a requirement for ANY car. And with only a handful of federally approved manufacturers out there, that is a windfall waiting to happen. Not sure I like the idea of enforced interlock devices for non-convicted drivers. You?

  6. Thanks for the article. I do not have any personal experience with the ignition interlock devices but I do know some people who have. From my understanding, I believe that there are different companies who manufacture and service these products and each might run their protocol a little different. I know that many are required to pull over to administer the breath test. It is just another one of those consequences that one has to face as a result of their actions behind the wheel. I definitely think that the technology for these devices should continue to evolve. An even newer product called the SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor) may make the IID obsolete. The SCRAM is an ankle monitor that does exactly what its name says. Regardless of any changes, I would much rather have someone who might have to avert their eyes from the road for a second to blow into a tube than have them continuously swerving all over the road with one eye closed trying to keep it together.

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