New Jersey Drunk Driving News: Will Anti-DWI Breathalyzer-Ignition Interlocks Cause Traffic Accidents?

Since the passing of another anti-drunk driving bill in the state legislature earlier this year, some people have voiced concern over the safety of ignition interlock devices, which are designed to disable a vehicle if the operator’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) is over a certain level. The law requires even those convicted of a first-time DWI violation to have the breathalyzer-type device installed on their vehicle.

As a New Jersey lawyer who defends motorists charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, I was not surprised by the passage of this law especially considering the strong public support for most any DWI, drug DUI or other drunken driving offenses. Not only does a conviction for driving while intoxicated carry a stigma that is not easily lost, court costs, fines and increased insurance premiums only add to the burden, even for first-time offenders.

Recently, an editorial addressed the concern of having so many vehicles fitted with a breathalyzer-ignition interlock device. The fear is that these devices might cause additional distractions or literally shut off the vehicle as it is traveling on a busy expressway, possibly causing an accident.

Based on the piece, which asks the question of whether or not you would plow up a balloon for your kids while operating a motor vehicle, answers some of the questions involving the safety of these ignition interlocks.

It’s a legitimate question, since many accidents do occur because of driver distraction. Since the new state law requires a convicted DWI offender to blow into an ignition interlock device, does this happen while they are driving? And if so, really how safe is that for the driving public in general?

While the device requires the driver to blow into it to allow the engine to start, and then periodically while the car is being used, it apparently will not “shut down” the engine while the vehicle is in motion. In this case, if the device detects a BAC sample above a predetermined level, a signal will cause the headlights to flash and the horn to sound.

According to reports, it’s a quick procedure that should not be as distracting as carrying on a continual conversation on a hand-held cellphone. That’s nice to know, because we don’t need any court-mandated devices causing additional accidents all in the name of safety.

Road Warrior: Drunken driving interlocks: Are they dangerous?, NorthJersey.com, March 3, 2010