What is an ignition interlock device?

An ignition interlock device is a mechanism that is installed in a vehicle’s dashboard. It is a type of car breathalyzer – you breathe into the device and it measures your Breath Alcohol Concentration (often referred to as BrAC) before you are able to start your vehicle. If your BrAC is over a certain amount, the vehicle will not start. The BrAC limits at which the device will allow you to start your vehicle vary from state to state, but are commonly between 0.02% and 0.04%.

Driving under the influence is a problem across the United States. There are many penalties in place that focus on curbing drunk driving: jail time, fines, license suspension and more. Ignition interlock devices are also a tool that is commonly used and required by state laws to stop people from drinking and driving. All 50 states have some sort of ignition interlock law in place, however, many states only order someone to get an ignition interlock device if they have had a previous driving under the influence conviction.

As of September 2013, fifteen states—Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Washington have mandatory ignition interlock provisions for all offenses. As an offender, you may be ordered to have a device installed after the first drunken driving offense if your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was over 0.15%, you refused to consent to a chemical alcohol test, were involved in an accident or you caused bodily injury while driving under the influence of alcohol.

Illinois and Colorado’s laws are not mandatory for a first conviction, but there are strong incentives to install an ignition interlock device on the first conviction. Having an ignition interlock or car breathalyzer device installed is often a condition of regaining your full driving privileges or obtaining a restricted driving permit. Restricted driving permits can be obtained in some states for work, school or medical reasons if your license was suspended or restricted as the result of a driving while intoxicated conviction.

If you are ordered to have an ignition interlock device installed, you will have to pay the fees for leasing the device as well as the installation costs. Ignition interlock devices are leased from private companies, or vendors that are authorized by the state to lease and install the mechanisms. Some states also have addition fines or fees that are payable to the state.

Questions to ask an ignition interlock provider

Q. Does your ignition interlock meet my state’s requirements?
A. All ignition interlock devices must meet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) requirements and pass vigorous testing from any state where they want to be an approved provider. Make sure your provider passes or exceeds all requirements in the state where your offense occurred.

Q. How many service center locations do you have nationwide?
A. In addition to having an installation location near your home or work, you will want to make sure your ignition interlock provider has an extensive amount of service center locations for maintaining your device while traveling.

Q. How much will my ignition interlock cost?
A. The cost of leasing an ignition interlock can cost as little as $2.30 per day. The cost will vary depending on the features you are required to have and how long you need to have it installed. A good customer service agent should be willing to take you through all the costs.

Q. How long will my installation take?
A. Most installations take less than an hour. However, depending on your vehicle, the appointment may take longer. Your provider should be able to give a reasonable estimate for installation time if you provide them with your year, make and model.

Q. How often will I have to bring my vehicle into a service center for required maintenance?
A. Ignition interlock devices are required to be calibrated based on state regulations. Calibration rules vary by state, but generally a device needs calibrated every 30 to 60 days. However, some vendors are able to extend the period between scheduled maintenance appointments because their device has gone through extended calibration testing.

Q. Can I have the device shipped directly to my house?
A. Some ignition interlock providers have a program where they can automatically send your calibrated devices to the address you specify. This is not allowed in all states, it depends on your states requirements. In some states, yes, you can simply exchange the devices by mail and send the expiring device back to the provider rather than visit the service center. Be sure to ask your representative if you qualify for this and whether there will be an additional charge. Not all providers charge for this service.

Q. What are your customer service hours?
A. Make sure your provider offers 24/7 customer service and that if you call, you will be able to speak to an actual person not a recording.

Q. Do you have bilingual service?
A. Ask and make sure sales staff, materials and technical support are offered in both English and spanish if that is a feature that is important to you. Some providers even offer website translations for their spanish speaking customers.

Ignition interlock FAQs

Q. Will an ignition interlock damage my vehicle?
A. If you select a reputable ignition interlock provider, they will have trained installation and service technicians who are experts in working with a vehicle’s electrical system and there should be no risk of damage to your vehicle. Don’t be afraid to ask your provider about your specific make and model.

Q. Will the ignition interlock device shut my vehicle off while I am driving?
A. No, an ignition interlock can only prevent your vehicle from starting. Once you have successfully passed a test and started your vehicle, the device will not affect the operation of your vehicle while it is running.

Q. How does my monitoring authority know that I have an ignition interlock device installed?
A. After your installation is complete, you will be given a Certificate of Installation. In many states, you are required to provide this document to your monitoring authority. In other states, your provider will electronically notify your state of the installation. Ask your representative about your states requirements at installation and be sure you’re covered.

Q. What happens if I do not comply with orders to install an ignition interlock device?
Depending on your states regulations, you may not be allowed to regain your unrestricted driving privileges until you have completed your ignition interlock requirements. In addition, your ignition interlock restriction can be extended if you do not comply. In some states you could also face additional fines or jail time and be held in contempt.

Q. Can other people operate my vehicle once I have the ignition interlock installed?
A. Any licensed driver may drive your vehicle. They will, however, have to submit breath samples as requested by the device. Whoever is driving must take the test. It can be considered a felony if anyone other than the driver provides a breath sample. You are responsible for all tests taken on your device in your vehicle.