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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Locking down drunk drivers

    Drivers who get cited for DUI face having an ignition interlock, a device that tests blood alcohol content from the users breath, installed in their car, such as the one that former UA student Jackie Rovinsky, 21, demonstrates.
    Drivers who get cited for DUI face having an ignition interlock, a device that tests blood alcohol content from the user’s breath, installed in their car, such as the one that former UA student Jackie Rovinsky, 21, demonstrates.

    Arizona drunk drivers, meet ignition interlocks.

    A device gathering attention on the market, interlocks limit drunk driving by preventing ignition until drivers submit a breath sample that registers at a blood-alcohol content of .03 or less.

    Beginning this fall, individuals convicted of a DUI will be required to install the device into their car for a period ranging from six months to two years, depending on the severity of the violation.

    “”We’re trying to think outside the box,”” said Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, who helped turn the bill into law. “”We have raised the fines, raised the jail time year after year and have seen little change in the numbers. So, with this approach we hope to decrease the numbers of DUIs in this state.””

    There is little doubt that DUIs are a problem in Pima County. Since January, the number of recorded DUIs has already risen to 950 with two fatal accidents, according to Tucson Police Department statistics.

    During each weekend in May, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and the Tucson Police Department conducted sobriety checkpoints in different areas of town, netting 44 DUI offenders on the weekend of May 18, according to Southern Arizona DUI Taskforce statistics.

    Throughout town, billboards displaying the severity of drunken driving aim to remind individuals to make the right choices with alcohol. Law enforcement officials have also held drunk-driving seminars on the UA Mall to encourage students not to drink and drive.

    “”The tremendous impact that DUIs have on the community could cross over to campus,”” said University of Arizona Police Department officer Eugene Mejia. “”We know what DUI drivers can do – they maim, they kill, they cost the community large amounts of money. But the message doesn’t always get through, and individuals still go out and drive drunk.””

    The interlock device, Mejia said, is simply one additional tool to curb drunk driving.

    How it works

    The interlock device is a computer. To ensure that the device is as fool-proof as possible, it will ask the driver for breath samples periodically while driving, so that no one else could start the car.

    “”In our device you have to blow and hum for over six seconds, so you can’t just use a compressed can of air,”” said Gary Johns, franchise owner of SmartStart, one of the leading interlock device companies in the state. “”And, at the same time, it’s a computer, so over time it will get used to you.””

    If a driver does not pass on the first try, he or she must wait to sober up until they can try again.

    “”Some people don’t realize that if you’re drunk when you go to sleep, once you get up you’re almost as drunk as you were last night,”” Johns said. “”It can take anywhere from half an hour to four or five hours in order to pass the alcohol through your system and pass the test to be able to start the car.””

    Caroline Schiller, a French senior, knows the ins and outs of the interlock device all too well. Convicted of a DUI in another state, Schiller voluntarily placed an interlock device on her car after driving under the influence landed her in more trouble.

    “”Sometimes it’s frustrating in the morning when I can’t drive to get breakfast if I went out the night before,”” Schiller said. “”I’ve had days when I couldn’t drive to get food until 4 p.m.””

    Also, Schiller said, it’s annoying to have to wait for the car to turn on after blowing into the device and passing the test.

    “”Once, I had my friend try to pass the test and it failed her because she had just rinsed her mouth with mouthwash,”” Schiller said. “”There is a one-minute gap after taking the test that you have to wait to turn on your car, and that gets a little irritating sometimes.””

    Schiller does admit that she feels the device has helped her more than it has hindered her.

    “”I’ve become accustomed to the idea that I won’t be driving if I go out,”” Schiller said. “”Now, I just take cabs, which is what I should be doing.””

    The costs

    When driving for extended periods of time, the device will ask for randomly decided samples to ensure that the driver is not drinking while on the road, Johns said. He estimated that during a drive to Tucson from Phoenix, a test may be demanded up to five times.

    Every 30 days, drivers are allowed to fail the test six times while the car is in motion. After that, the car won’t start on the next ignition attempt. Drivers then have 48 hours to take the interlock into a SmartStart office to have it recalibrated. The interlock must be re-calibrated every 30 days, regardless.

    On average, recalibration costs about $70 a month. The more you procrastinate to have the device re-calibrated, the more you pay, Johns said, as after a car suffers a “”lock-out,”” drivers must pay an extra fee of $25-50.

    In addition to the monthly fee, some companies also charge an installation fee that can run from $20-100, although SmartStart does not.

    “”I’ve talked to the interlock companies, and (the fee) will be around $240 for a year once the market kind of settles,”” Schapira said. “”That’s far less than what an individual will already have to pay in fines to the state, which is mounting up to about $1,500, plus jail time.””

    A September to remember

    The law will take effect in September, Schapira said, unless lawmakers decide to write an amendment to it. If so, it will take effect Nov. 15.

    Schapira said drivers who register a BAC “”at the most extreme level,”” at or above .20, will be required to use the interlock device for the longest period: 18 months for first-time convicted offenders of extreme DUI, and 24 months if it’s the second offense.

    Those convicted of a DUI while driving at a BAC of .08, .09 or .10 may receive only six months if lawmakers decide to write an amendment to the law, Schapira said.

    The interlock device will be an additional part of a DUI sentence and will not take the place of jail time or fines, Schapira said.

    “”Right now, every single DUI offender does jail time, and that won’t change at all,”” he said. “”This has worked in New Mexico, and it has worked in Arizona for extreme DUIs and repeat offenders, so I think there’s an important benefit.””

    Mejia said he agrees that the interlock device has its benefits.

    “”A DUI problem exists statewide,”” Mejia said. “”We have had some students get killed in DUI-related collisions. We stress the fact that DUI laws are in place to protect the community, and the (interlock device) is an additional tool that will hopefully force those with a drinking problem to discontinue their neglect of state law.””

    Mejia added that the interlock device notwithstanding, DUIs involve bad choices.

    “”Just make the right choices,”” he said. “”If you go out to a place where there is alcohol, bring a designated driver or money for a cab.””

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