October 22, 2017

The Ignition Interlock Device in Austin

LifeSafer-Ignition-Interlock-Device-FC100-In-Car

A LifeSafer ignition interlock device.

What is an ignition interlock device?

Austin, are you ready for the ignition interlock device (IID)? As of September 1, 2015, a new law signed by Governor Greg Abbott changes the landscape for Texans struggling with the consequences of DWIs. Now individuals who have DWI license suspensions can opt to install a breathalyzer-like interlock device from manufacturers like Smartstart and Lifesafer so they can continue driving without endangering other drivers.

Also known as a breath alcohol interlock device (BAIID), an ignition interlock device is essentially a portable breathalyzer for a car that ensures that the driver is sober before the car can be started. The interlock also prompts the driver for additional breath samples during drives to ensure that the car wasn’t illicitly started using a breath sample from someone other than the driver. If the additional breath samples are not successfully submitted, the interlock device triggers an alarm mode, flashing the cars lights and honking its horn until the car is turned off.

Who needs an ignition interlock?

Installing an interlock is a method for a driver who is about to have their license suspended for a DWI to retain their driving privilege.

How does an interlock device work?

An ignition interlock device does not allow the car’s operation if there is any alcohol detected in the driver’s breath — even legal levels of alcohol.

Originally invented in 1969, the interlock device has been refined and improved until it has reached a stable and accurate status. Most interlock devices contain a fuel cell sensor which reads the alcohol content in breath via its electrical conductivity across a catalytic electrode surface.

This technology, while not quite as accurate as the method used by police breathalyzers, is inexpensive and portable. Two major manufacturers, Smartstart and Lifesafer, are both based in Texas (Grapevine and San Antonio, respectively). Lifesafer is even introducing an interlock device disguised as a coffee cup so drivers can use their interlock without embarrassment.

How much does an interlock device cost in Austin?

DWIs and DUIs are expensive, and an ignition interlock device adds to the cost, but not substantially. First, if the driver had their license confiscated by a police officer, there is a $125 ALR (administrative license revocation) reinstatement fee to get a license reactivated. Second, it costs $10 to add an interlock restriction to a driver’s license. Third, the interlock device installation costs about $70 to 150. And fourth, the interlock device needs to be regularly calibrated every few months, which must be paid for by the driver at the cost of about $70 per month.

Driver’s license suspensions can be 90 days to 2 years. If an offender cannot pay for their ignition interlock device, they may be able to apply for a sponsored device from an indigent fund or interlock manufacturer.

When can an interlock device be removed from an offender’s vehicle?

Although it provides a valuable safety function, an interlock device is also an inconvenience and a recurring cost. Once an offender’s suspension period is concluded, they may remove the interlock. Suspension can be 90 days to 2 years.

How has the ignition interlock device been received?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says public support for interlock devices is at 84%.

The ignition interlock device bill passed the Texas House and Senate near-unanimously. One of the bill’s authors, state Rep. Jason Villalba (Dallas), says, “This is the one I can walk away from the session and feel like we really had an impact on the safety for all Texans.”

Based in Irving, Texas, MADD has been trying to get an ignition interlock law passed in Texas for a decade. Previously, only DWI offenders with blood alcohol levels above .15 percent could get an interlock device, and it was required for such offenders. The new law opens the ignition interlock option to lesser offenders and strips it from severe offenders.