Douglas County looks at breath test for drivers
Douglas County is beefing up drunken driving sentences by adding ignition interlock systems into the mix. Drivers must breathe into the device, which is connected under the dashboard, to start their vehicle. Random retests then keep tabs on the d...
Douglas County is beefing up drunken driving sentences by adding ignition interlock systems into the mix. Drivers must breathe into the device, which is connected under the dashboard, to start their vehicle. Random retests then keep tabs on the driver while the vehicle is rolling.
The devices have been part of the state's sentencing arsenal for years, Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Lovejoy said, but haven't been requested in Douglas County until this spring.
"I realized in fact we had sort of been deviating from" state guidelines, Lovejoy said.
Wisconsin judges have the option of ordering ignition interlock systems for drunken drivers convicted for a second time, and system installation is mandatory after a third conviction, according to state statute. But, Lovejoy said, the district attorney's office has not been pushing the systems because they're optional.
During sentencing for a recent operating while intoxicated case, Lovejoy requested the ignition interlock system.
"This particular attorney thought I was being overly stringent," she said. So she called around.
"I heard from 31 different counties," Lovejoy said, and all but one are asking they be added to sentences.
The system costs about $1,100, depending on how long it must be installed.
"It could last up to 24, 27 or 30 months on a third OWI," Lovejoy said. The driver pays the cost.
Three different models are approved by the state. One, manufactured by Consumer Safety Technology, Inc. can be installed in Superior. On any given day, said sales representative Erika Olsen, there are 6,000 of the company's systems active in 32 states.
Hurley is the closest site to pick up a Draeger Safety Diagnostics Inc. model. The systems are slowly gaining ground in Wisconsin, according to Karen Dewey, office manager for Draeger vendor New Horizon Interlock Inc., which provides the systems in Michigan and Wisconsin. She said Michigan orders about 5,000 of the systems a year; Wisconsin orders less than 500.
The third approved system is built by LifeSafer Interlock.
If a driver fails to blow a clean sample into an ignition interlock system, the vehicle won't start. Every sample is recorded in the system's electronic memory, which is recalibrated every few months. At that time, the microchip report is downloaded and reported.
If the driver blows one test with a high breath alcohol concentration (BAC) or three with low BAC, a separate recalibration is required within a limited amount of time. Failure to do so locks the driver out. They then have to get a special passcode from the system manufacturer in order to drive the vehicle in for service.
Each trip to the service center racks up fees that, like the cost of the system itself, must be paid by the driver.
Drivers get three chances to pass random retests while the vehicle is moving. If they miss the tests because they are out of the vehicle or fail them, the vehicle does not immediately lock up. Some models flash the lights and honk the horn if the driver fails to pass the rolling retests. When the driver pulls over and stops, they will have to blow a clean sample to start the car again.
It's all about changing habits, said Karen Dewey, office manager for New Horizon Interlock Inc., a Draeger vendor serving Michigan and Wisconsin.
"We're not there to 'get you,'" she said. "We're there to help."
Evidence of that is the growing number of voluntary ignition interlock system customers. Olsen said 20 percent of Consumer Safety Technology Inc.'s customers install the devices without a court order. Common recipients are teen drivers, spouses are ex-spouses, she said.
"I've seen it change lives for the better," Dewey said.
Both she and Olsen warned that certain habits can cause false positive tests. Alcohol can be detected from mouthwash, perfume, Axe deodorant and even fresh bread or pizza crust.