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Do Ignition Interlock Devices Cause Distracted Driving Accidents?People across the U.S. who have been convicted of driving while intoxicated are using breath alcohol ignition interlock devices (BAIID) in order to retain their driving privileges. A BAIID is a Breathalyzer connected to a vehicle that requires the user to provide a breath sample to prove that they have not been drinking. In Texas, first-time DWI offenders can opt to use a BAIID to continue driving during their driver’s license suspension. BAIID installation is mandatory for people who have been convicted of DWI for a second time or had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 percent or greater. While proponents of BAIIDs say that the device has saved numerous lives by stopping people from driving drunk, a smaller group of skeptics point out that the requirement to continue providing breath samples while driving has caused fatal crashes.

Distracted Driving

Once the BAIID user has started their vehicle, they must continue to prove that they are not drinking by providing breath samples every five to 15 minutes, which are commonly called rolling retests. A recent investigation by The New York Times found dozens of crashes across the country that were caused by drivers who were distracted by having to take a rolling retest. There are several distractions related to the retests:

  • The BAIID will beep when it is time for a retest, which will immediately grab the driver’s attention.
  • The driver may have only five minutes to provide a sample, creating a sense of panic.
  • Providing a breath sample requires the driver to find the device, hold it in their hand and blow air into it, all of which can be distracting.
  • Failing the test or not providing a sample in time will cause the vehicle’s horn to go off and lights to start flashing, which is distracting to the driver and other nearby drivers.

BAIID advocates argue that the driver has ample time to pull over before taking a rolling retest, but this may be unrealistic if the driver is on a road that does not have a safe place to stop. Also, the sensors in BAIIDs have been known to falsely identify alcohol in the user’s breath, creating an unnecessary distraction.

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Different Forms of Alcohol Monitoring DevicesTexas courts can mandate that a defendant convicted for driving while intoxicated must use an ignition interlock device in his or her vehicle. The DWI offender must provide a breath sample in order to start the vehicle and continue to give samples periodically while driving. The device will report any sample that contains traces of alcohol to the court, which may punish the user for violating the terms of his or her probation. An ignition interlock is the most common type of alcohol monitoring device, but people suspected or convicted of DWI may be required to use other devices.

In-Home Testing

A court may order a DWI offender to use a portable alcohol monitoring device as an alternative to an ignition interlock device if the offender:

  • Does not have his or her own vehicle;
  • Shares his or her vehicle with others; or
  • Has not complied with using the ignition interlock device.

A portable alcohol monitoring device can be hand-held or a slightly larger device that must be plugged into an outlet. The monitoring authority determines how frequently the user must provide breathe samples, and the test results are either transmitted immediately or uploaded from the device periodically. Items such as mouthwash or hand sanitizer can cause a false positive test result. The device manufacturers claim that these substances should not contaminate the breath sample if the subject waits for 15 to 20 minutes after using them.

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Texas Requiring DWI Offenders to Use Ignition Interlock DevicesSince 2015, Texas law has required many people convicted of driving while intoxicated to use ignition interlock devices on their vehicles as a condition of restoring their driving privileges. The new program is meant to reduce incidents of intoxicated driving by previous offenders and provide some first-time offenders an alternative to a suspended driver’s license. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, an organization that advocated for the law, claims that the number of drunk driving deaths in Texas have decreased by 8.5 percent since the law was passed. Because of the newness of the law, it is difficult to find a comprehensive source clearly explaining the ignition interlock device program. Here are the answers to some basic questions.

What Is It?

An ignition interlock device is a small breathalyzer connected to a vehicle’s ignition system and typically located on the vehicle’s passenger side. Before starting the vehicle, the driver must breath into the device. If the breath alcohol content is greater than a preset limit, then the vehicle will not start. After a vehicle is started, the device will sometimes require the driver to provide an additional breath sample to prove continued sobriety. The driver will be alerted of the retest and given time to pullover to a safe location before providing another sample.

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