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If you’ve been convicted of a DUI, there are many possible punishments you face, such as jail time, license suspension, and fines. Most of these are relatively self-explanatory, but many people become confused when it comes to one of the punishments that you may receive: an ignition interlock device. What is an ignition interlock device?

An ignition interlock device is a gadget that is wired to your car’s ignition. It is a little bigger than a cell phone. Once it is installed, you have to blow into it before your engine will start. If it does not detect alcohol on your breath, the car will run. If it does detect alcohol on your breath, the engine won’t start.

In order to prevent someone from drinking and then having a sober person breathe into the device to start the car, you are periodically asked to provide breath samples as you drive. If you are unable to provide a clean breath sample, the device will log the event, warn the driver, and start an alarm, which can involve the lights flashing or the horn honking, until the car is turned off or a clean breath sample is provided. It will not simply shut off the engine, as is the common misconception, because this would cause an unsafe driving situation.

Most devices use an ethanol-specific fuel cell as a sensor. This is an electrochemical device where alcohol undergoes a chemical oxidation reaction to generate an electrical current. This current is then measured and converted to a reading. This technology is not as accurate as infrared spectroscopy, but it is cheaper.

The record from the activity on the device is printed out or downloaded every time the device’s sensors are calibrated, typically at one, two, or three month intervals.

Who Provides The Ignition Interlock Devices?

If the court orders you to use an ignition interlock device, you must have one installed by an installer authorized by the State of New Jersey or Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Then you have to provide proof of installation to the department of motor vehicles. If you are pulled over by a police officer, he or she will know that you should be using the device. Failure to have the device on the car you are driving will result in an additional criminal charge.

The best way to find an authorized installer in your state is to go to your DMV’s website. They usually have a list of manufacturers. You can also call the DMV directly and ask where to find the information.

How Much Does It Cost to Install and Maintain an Ignition Interlock Device?

The fee for installation will depend on what type of vehicle you drive, where you live, and what company you go with. You should call a few places to compare prices. But typically, installation will run you between $50 and $200. But after the installation, you still have to pay monthly rental fees which can range from $50 to $100. You also need to pay for maintenance expense and fees for downloading or printing the log from the device. Failure to keep current with calibrating and maintaining the device can be considered a violation of the ignition interlock device program, so it’s important to keep up with it, even though it can be inconvenient.

The International Council on Alcohol, Drugs, and Traffic Safety reports that ignition interlock devices, as well as a comprehensive monitoring and service program, can reduce repeat drunk driving. This device may help protect you from a future DUI charge, which will likely carry punishment that is much more severe than your previous charge.

By Kevin Leckerman

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