Ignition interlocks to prevent drunk driving are also behind hundreds of crashes


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Is a device designed to deter people from drinking and driving causing hazards on the road?

We’re talking about ignition interlock. It is a system put in vehicles to measure alcohol on the breath.

“This has been the hardest thing that I’ve had to go through in my life,” said Hampton’s Cynthia Hites. Hites says the last four years have been a nightmare. It started in June of 2015 when Hites decided to drive home after having a few drinks.

“You know it was really a poor decision,” she added. “It was only two miles home.”

Around the corner from her house, Hites crashed her car. She was charged with DUI and found guilty in court.

“It has just been the most frustrating, most awful circumstance that I can imagine being in.”

As part of her punishment, Hites had an ignition interlock installed in her car. The device is a breath test and the car will only start if no alcohol is detected. If the car is started, it will also ask for random tests and will shut the car down until the test is passed.  

If alcohol is detected, the data is sent to the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP) and it determines if legal action is necessary. State law mandates anyone with a first offense DUI conviction has the device for six months.

“This tool interlock ignition device stops or curbs somebody who drives impaired, because it disables a vehicle,” said Mike Goodove from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Goodove believes this device helps deter would-be drunk drivers. 

“What you are doing is putting a piece of technology in the vehicle so you can be assured that the person behind the wheel is not impaired,” he added.

“I had so much trouble with that device on the regular,” Hites said.

Hites believes there are issues that come with the ignition interlock.

“Every one of them has to come off these cars,” she added. “Every single one of them.”

Hites documented her trouble with the device. She found there were times it would register false positives.

“There are a lot of alcohols out there,” she said. “People don’t realize that anything that ends in ‘ol’ is an alcohol. With the right vapor pressure, this machine will measure your sorbitol levels, your methanol, your menthol and isopropyl.”

Hites ended up having the ignition interlock on her car for 21 months because of false positives.

“All of these readings are happening to somebody who is completely sober for months,” she said.

“I would say the ignition interlock has served a very good purpose in society,” added defense attorney Steve Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer has fought hundreds of DUI charges. He too has heard about issues from his clients.

“It is crazy,” Pfeiffer said. “You see some cases where people will have a high BAC like a .09, so driving drunk trying to start their vehicle and then 15 minutes later it is a .02, and that’s not possible.”

“I think that any time you have a system that requires you to do something while you’re driving is a bad system, because it is distracted driving,” Shelia Dunn with the National Motorist Association added. “It can be deadly. A woman in Texas was killed in 2017 because of it. She was pulling out of her driveway and a man was trying to blow into his device and he ran into her.”

DMV says the number of crashes due to the device has gone up from 407 in 2012 to 678 in 2016.

10 On Your Side asked VASAP about the issue and were told they would not comment about any personal stories about interlock. They also declined our request to do an on-camera interview.

“This technology saves lives,” Goodove said. “This is not junk science. It’s not bogus technology, and if you believe that it is bogus, don’t drive. Don’t put one on your car.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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