Zen and the Art of IID Maintenance

Just the other day I had an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) removed from my car.

Now drunk driving *IS* a big problem.  More people do it with or without thinking than you could even imagine.  If there was a breathalyzer checkpoint at the door of any bar in the tri-state area, I’d imagine that bar would look like one hopping place because while many enter, very few would actually be able to leave when they wanted to.

In New York State, should you be the lucky recipient of a DWI, you will be subject to fines (around $900), a state government surcharge ($750), lawyers fees (at last estimate around… $3000), impound fees ($300+), suspension and/or restriction of your driving privileges, being hurled back into the assigned-risk insurance pool (75% surcharge on your standard automotive policy for 39 months), and of course – the pièce de résistance, an IID ($120 install, $120 monthly monitoring, $80 removal, and $60 per reset due to a fail).

Now the theory behind the IID is that when installed in the vehicle of a DWI offender, it will prevent the car from being started if the driver blows over .020% BAC.  The devices have many countermeasures to prevent tampering such as built-in infra-red cameras to identify who is taking the test, rolling retests (every 15-30 minutes), as well a spiffy data log which keeps track of whether power to the device has been interrupted in any way.  Blow anything but a fresh lungful of bad breath, a violation is logged, reported to your case-worker instantly, and you may or may not find yourself back in court.  Following that theory, it works.  In reality…

From day 1 you will be told that these devices never malfunction.  That is an absolute lie.

Like any other modern electronic device, an IID can and will malfunction.  From false positives due to alcohol based mouthwash like Listerine or Scope, or energy drinks like Red Bull, to failed readings which trigger an ‘Abort’ or ‘Wait’ alert, to failing due to internal corrosion, hardware defect, etc… they are fully capable of keeping both inebriated and stone sober drivers from getting behind the wheel of their cars.

If you ask what to avoid besides alcohol, you won’t be told anything – everyone involved knows what can trigger these things to fail – but to admit that drinking a Red Bull or eating the wrong type of bread would cause a fail would be admitting that the IID can malfunction.  If the manufacturer, the government, or even the well-intentioned groups like MADD who champion the cause of these devices were to ever acknowledge that the IID is not 100% effective – it would quickly open up the laws that require their use to attack.  With no laws to require an IID, the revenue stream into the Government as well as the manufacturers which rely on raking in BAC violations would be drastically cut if not eliminated… and therein lies the rub.

I’ve had the IID replaced a total of 4 times across 2 vehicles.  Remember – these DO NOT malfunction…but why have them replaced if they’re always working as expected?  The very last time I had one replaced, the regional manager of the interlock company went as far as to accuse me of tampering with the device to make it fail.

Consider the logic at work here folks, it is mind boggling.  The device malfunctions, as a result I am late to work, late to appointments, have to completely scrap plans, and not to mention drop $60 to have the unit reset and re-calibrated so the car isn’t locked out 5 days after the initial malfunction…. And I was supposedly doing this ON PURPOSE!?  Every time it was obvious that the unit was malfunctioning, the regional manager fought tooth and nail against replacing the unit.  We were told repeatedly that we were the ONLY ONES having problems with these devices (a quick trip to Google will prove otherwise).  After all of the BS, and after paying enough reset fees, eventually they would authorize the replacement (with no mention of malfunction in the reason behind it).

After repeated calls to the regional manager went un-answered (mind you, she ASKED for me to call and discuss what was going on) – I resorted to my tried and true method of problem resolution commonly referred to as “Sherman’s March to The Sea.”  Using Google.com, I located the contact information for the top executives and owners of the interlock company, and emailed them directly to explain the situation and ask VERY NICELY for a resolution.

Within 2 days, the installer had contacted me and advised that the replacement was approved – and the best part – the regional manager was no longer with the company.

The culprit here – and this is key because I was *NEVER* told that they would cause a false positive or malfunction, was my electronic cigarette.  Early on I had discovered that any flavored electronic cigarette would quickly trigger a fail.  After much hyperventilating the fail would clear on a retest, but this is what the manufacturers and government force you to do – learn by trial and error – all the while forking over hard earned cash to resolve problems with a device they say NEVER MALFUNCTIONS.

For months then, I continued not smoking real cigarettes – instead smoking my electronic variety which did not trigger any failures or malfunctions…  that is until the outside temperature dropped below 32F.  Almost overnight the unit would fail nearly every test until it warmed up enough, even failing for the installer after driving an hour to have the unit reset.  The very day I had the unit replaced the first time, I decided ‘no more e-cigarettes while driving’ thinking that would be enough.  NAY.  After sitting at my desk for 8 hours and attempting to leave for the day (and not vaping for an hour prior to leaving) – the IID repeatedly failed me.  Eventually I gave up, abandoned the car at my office, and got a ride home.

Now since these devices never malfunction, I had to resort to my own methods of avoiding these malfunctions.  A few things worked…  First was unplugging the head unit and bringing it inside with me when it wasn’t in use.  From a warm start, it would either WARN or pass on the first test… but the common thing here was normally that my first test of the morning would pass, then after about 10 minutes I would fail the retest.  The other thing was to make sure I removed the clear plastic mouthpiece when the device wasn’t in use, which allowed the condensation from my breath to slowly evaporate from the IID.

Still, despite those efforts – it still malfunctioned – and I was never advised to modify my behavior, simply that the IID does NOT MALFUNCTION, that NOBODY HAS EVER HAD A PROBLEM LIKE THIS, and that I must be DOING THIS ON PURPOSE.  After the final replacement, I stopped using my e-cigarrettes, and from that day to the joyous removal date – no malfunctions.  My best guess here is that the chemicals in the e-cigarette liquid must have built up on the sensor as once the device began to malfunction, all BAC readings were in the .020% range.

Recently passed laws make the absurd requirement of installing an IID in every household vehicle (regardless of guilt or innocence) that the offender may have access to drive.  Local municipalities are going even further, attempting to enact policies which prohibit your God given and constitutionally protected right to have a drink (as long as you don’t drive).  IID’s are becoming more widespread every day despite their inherent flaws and numerous malfunctions (ever see a BAC test given at a police station?  Did you wonder why the officer keeps telling the suspect to blow even after the test has apparently completed?  It’s to drive every bit of alcohol from your lungs and into the machine, so that your BAC reading is actually HIGHER than what is ACTUALLY IN YOUR BLOOD).

So to anyone who has to deal with an IID in their life, please remember the following (I am not responsible for anything that happens to you if you do or do not heed my suggestions) :

  • Don’t drink and drive!!!
  • Get help!!!  Even if you don’t THINK you’re an alcoholic, go to AA, get substance abuse counceling, and see first hand what alcohol abuse can do to people…  if that doesn’t elevate your thinking, nothing short of a bullet in the head is going to help you.
  • Buy a portable breathalyzer, they range in price from $10 to $100 and can be found in many convenience stores (even Best Buy sells them).  When in doubt, take a breath test.  I picked up a small keychain unit for $10 at Best Buy which let me know when my BAC was negligible.
  • Don’t believe the hype, the units malfunction every day, keep track of every malfunction (date, time, what you’ve eaten, drank, or smoked).  Report any and every malfunction to the installer as well as your case worker.  If you’re called back to court, the malfunction log is your friend.  A replacement could get every reading on the unit invalidated.
  • If you’re ever stopped for suspicion of DWI, and you know you are drunk, don’t admit to drinking anything, don’t admit to being drunk, be polite and cooperative – but remember – they have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are committing a crime.  You have the right to remain silent whether or not you are under arrest.  Worst case, you take a field sobriety test, you get arrested, and eventually wind up at the station.  Refusing to take a breathalyzer test results in an immediate 6-month suspension of driving privileges.  Demand an actual blood test, it is the only truly accurate way to determine BAC, and could be the difference between having a criminal record or just having a bad night.  You could fail a field sobriety test, get arrested, and unless you were completely trashed – by the time you get that blood test – be in the clear or have a BAC reading within DAI range (driving while abilities impaired).
  • If you are arrested, get a good lawyer, and get everything in writing.  The court is not going to grant you any quarter, they are hell bent on making an example out of every single person before the bench regardless of guilt, innocence, or context.  DWI is a big problem, but also a huge money-maker for the Government as well as IID manufacturers, so they have every intention of squeezing you dry and burying you – with the end result being that you may or may not (depending on whether you’re an alcoholic, an idiot, or just plain unlucky) drive drunk again.

I’m glad it is done with.  I’ve never been arrested for DWI, DUI, or DAI – everyone has driven at while at least buzzed, but I pray that you never have to see the effect this has on those you love.  It is an unmitigated nightmare at every level.  Driving under the influence of alcohol is stupid, avoidable, and not worth losing your money, self respect, or life.  Avoid driving after drinking at all costs.

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