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What is an ignition interlock device?

Ignition interlock device (IID), car breathalyzer, breath alcohol ignition interlock (BAIID)…you might have heard these terms before, but may not understand what they mean or know what the difference is. These terms are all interchangeable names for a handheld breathalyzer that’s installed in a vehicle’s ignition system to prevent the driver from driving while intoxicated. If you’ve been charged with drunk driving, you may be required to install one into your car if you want to stay on the road.

So, how does an ignition interlock device work?

To turn on the vehicle, you must blow into the device before the engine will start. Your Intoxalock intercepts the signal so that it can determine your breath alcohol content (BrAC). If Intoxalock doesn’t detect any alcohol, your car will start. However, if the device detects a BrAC over the limit set by your state for the device (usually .02 or .025), your vehicle will not start.

One feature that all states require of a car breathalyzer is that it conducts “random retests.” This simply means that to keep the engine running, you have to provide another breath sample by blowing into the device and registering a clean BrAC. These retests happen at random intervals while the vehicle is in operation. Their purpose is to prevent a sober person from providing the sample to start the car for an intoxicated driver. Intoxalock gives you a six-minute window to provide a sample, allowing time to find a safe opportunity to pull over if you’re unable to provide one while driving.

Don’t worry, your car won’t immediately stop in the middle of the road if the BrAC isn’t below an acceptable level. Instead, the device will signal you to pull over and stop driving. Depending on the state, your horn may honk or lights may flash until you turn off your vehicle.

What happens when your BrAC is too high?

If your BrAC is too high, Intoxalock ignition interlock devices will prevent your vehicle’s engine from starting. Every state has its own regulations for what happens when the device detects breath alcohol content over the legal limit. While some states only require the driver to keep breathing in the device until an acceptable BrAC is reached and the ignition starts, other states will lock the driver out of the device after a set number of failed start attempts..

How effective are ignition interlock devices?

The technology has certainly proven to be an effective measure to prevent drunk driving. One study found that states where car breathalyzer devices are required after a drunk driving conviction have seen a seven percent decrease in the rate of fatal crashes with a BrAC above .08 and an eight percent decrease with a BrAC above .15. Another study found that ignition interlocks reduce repeat offenses of driving under the influence by about 70 percent.

How long have states used IIDs to help prevent drunk driving?

Ignition interlock device technology that is used today was developed in the late 1980s with Intoxalock’s first device being installed in 1992.

Today, most states require car breathalyzers to be installed in vehicles after a drunk driving conviction. And laws are still changing every year. Some states require an IID to be installed after the first offense; other states require installation only after a repeat offense.

Organizations such as MADD lobby to pass stricter legislation that includes everything from cameras installed on each car breathalyzer to device installation after the first offense. Because studies have proven the use of IIDs is so effective, more and more states are requiring their use.

What are the requirements for my state?

Each state has its own laws about the types of devices required, how long they need to be installed for and more. Learn more about what your state requires. Intoxalock’s state specialists can walk you through the steps of how to get a device installed in your vehicle.


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