Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ignition interlocks a good idea for DWIs, but vendors should be more transparent

I'm a fan of ignition interlock devices for DWI probationers, and think that empirically they're a better solution than incarceration, for many drunk drivers, if the goal is to reduce fatalities. But like Elvez1975 over at You Don't Make Friends With Salad, it gives me pause if the makers of such devices aren't being transparent about their products.

Elvez1975 describes recent efforts by an ignition interlock company to market their devices to himself and other defense attorneys. He then tried to follow up to get more information from the company, but they rebuffed him because they don't give out information to offenders or their representatives, even though probationers must pay for the device themselves as part of their supervision agreement.

For now I'll continue to support these devices based on their empirical safety benefits. Indeed, I think they could be used more broadly if the state would just pay for them, since almost no matter what they cost it's cheaper than incarcerating someone for a multi-year sentence. But when someone's liberty interest is at stake, especially when the probationer's the one paying for the equipment, it's absurd that end users and their lawyers can't get enough information from a vendor to determine if the device is reliable.

23 comments:

JSN said...

From what I have read (and from experiences of friends) ignition locks when used with treatment and frequent random UA tests are fairly effective in protecting public safety. The treatment and supervision are more expensive than the ignition interlock and in our jurisdiction the offender has to pay for everything.

I agree that they would be used more if the state would pay all or part of the cost. There is not much interest in applying a means test to determine how much the offender can pay. On the contrary some persons think having to pay the full cost is part of the punishment.

don said...

Could you point me to the empirical evidence of which you speak? As you know, all breath testers are pretty inaccurate, and the technology is being challenged continuously. The source code for the processors that operate the Intoxilyzer 5000 and others is being sought on several fronts and the companies stonewall on this as well, even in the face of court orders to release it. The IID's are subject to the same limitations as the other machines. Do you support the IID's being required on the 1st conviction, or just multiples? This is a lucrative business. The Smart Start franchisee in our area also operates the state required offender classes, so they have an unfair advantage over other vendors
in marketing these classes. So now the industry is marketing to defense attorneys but refusing to give them information about their machines. They are also contributing heavily to MADD, who in turn lobbys for legislation to use more and more of them. I don't disagree that they are preferable to incarceration. But they need scrutiny and oversight.

Anonymous said...

The interlock is a great idea, at least in urban areas. Unfortunately, in many rural areas DWI offenders drive vehicles that can't get the 100 miles to the nearest installer - or they can't afford the gas to get there!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Don, I've sat through legislative testimony over several sessions indicating that the states that use them more widely have much lower DWI death rates than Texas. We have more DWI deaths than California, e.g., which has half again as many more people as Texas. The reasons consistently cited are more treatment options in CA, and more widespread use of interlocks.

Personally I'd support making them mandatory after a three or possibly two DWIs, and just have the state pay for them.

However, if they're not transparent about how they work, my support could ultimately evaporate.

JSN said...

I think you need a chemical engineer to comment on the technical reliability of ignition interlocks.

FWIW my impression is the the main reliability factors involve calibration and the alcohol threshold for locking out the driver. For public safety purposes if the threshold is set low to compensate for calibration errors the subject may be falsely denied the use of their vehicle. Most folks probably do not think this is a big deal but the subjects and their defense attorneys no doubt think otherwise.

The device is literally a go/nogo device but it is not a digital instead it is based on the photo comparison of the colors of two solutions where one of the solutions has been exposed to air from the lungs that may or may not contain alcohol.

I would have confidence in the readings if this were a laboratory instrument that was used by trained technicians who know how to test the calibration.
I would like to have the opinion of a chemical engineer about the reliability a field device of this type.

Anonymous said...

Okay Scott ... I like "let the state/county pay for it" But, why don't we go a step further, let's just buy the darn things and cut out the middle man. Wouldn't that be a huge savings in the long run?

elvez1975 said...

Depending on the client, IIDs can be a great option, but not because the technology is particularly great or even accurate. Despite everything that the IID providers say about their technology, the devices themselves are not reliable instruments. They suffer from the same systemic deficiencies that a standard breathalyzer does and have the added disadvantage that they are never really subjected to scientific scrutiny. All sorts of things can render false positives since the machine detects a range of chemical compound, instead of ethyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol only.

Even though the providers give our clients detailed instructions about what kinds of things they can and cannot eat, drink, and otherwise consume, there are countless commercial and industrial products that contain either ethyl alcohol or something that the machine will register as ethyl alcohol. Cigarette smoker? Smart Start says you shouldn't blow actual smoke into the machine. But the machine takes a deep lung sample, so a smoker who smoked 20-30 minutes before trying to start his/her car could register who knows what in terms of BAC on the device. The burden then is on the probationer/suspect to prove their innocence (not the burden as defined by law, but the burden as it exists in the judge's mind). This shifting burden is especially important when we are talking about a DWI probationer (who has been convicted of a crime) and a DWI suspect (who has merely been arrested for and charged with a crime).

These units are mobile and their environment is not carefully controlled (which is at least what DPS regulations about breathalyzers purport to do). Since I would argue that the technology is already suspect (the level of stonewalling about this technology from the State and the manufacturers (who offer NO guarantees of reliability or accuracy for their products) would never fly in a civil courtroom), the fact that it is on a car whose temperature is not controlled, whose stability is not controlled, whose exposure to moisture is not controlled, etc., etc., makes the results generated by an IID even less trustworthy.

However, I would agree with Scott on this point: for those clients who realize that the only thing standing between them and jail or prison time is an IID, it's a pretty easy choice.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Elvez, my point is really two-fold, both that it's a better rehabilitative option for the offender than incarceration, AND that it reduces DWI-related deaths more than long sentences.

I'm not concerned solely about the defendants' rights; though that's important, I'm not their criminal defense attorney. As a public policy matter DWI deaths are a real issue that deserves redress, and like all public policies that should ideally be done in the most targeted and least intrusive method possible.

That said, YOUNG drivers are arguably as big a problem as drunk drivers. I think raising the age to get a driver's license to 21 or even 25 would do more to reduce unnecessary road deaths, DWI related and otherwise - than any policy you could have related to substance abuse.

Don said...

Scott: If you tie the IID's together with more treatment options, (like CA) you will get fewer fatalities. Granted. If you just stick an IID on a felony drunk's car, I don't know. From my experience, personal and professional, they will drive. They don't need a license, a tag, brakes, whatever. I don't know what keeps them from driving another car. My guess would be that the treatment probably has more to do with it than the machines, but of course I'm biased. Elvez1975 pretty much summed it up. Scott, I understand your point is the IID's as opposed to long term incarceration. I agree on that point, but they need to work better, and the companies need to be forthcoming about the considerable limitations. I'm OK with letting the state pay for them. That way at least we could expect the state to demand a little accountability from these people who sell them. The way it is, if they can't afford them they just don't get them, but that doesn't stop them from driving. Also, somebody made the point about distance. We have places in West Texas that are 150-200 miles from the source for one of these machines. I would say that a felony drunk driver doesn't need to get behind a wheel of any kind, IID or no, until they complete a fairly intensive treatment program, and somebody has a reason to believe that they are sober.

sunray's wench said...

no, make the car manufacturers pay for it, make them fit the ignition locks as standard on all new cars and then maybe there wont be as many DWIs in the first place.

Anonymous said...

to sunray's wench ... that should cut down new car sales!!!

Don said...

Sunray's wench: YES! You are right on. We also need to hire many more police, have them conduct random searches of cars, houses, and body cavities much more often. Maybe set up a military style checkpoint every 100 miles or so. All the "citizens" or "comrades" would need to carry their government "papers" with them at all times. Then we can eliminate all the DWI's, drugs, terrorism, national disloyalty, the stupid constitution, and no telling what all.

elvez1975 said...

Scott: I wasn't trying to put words into your mouth. My post was confusing on this point, but what I wanted to make clear was that the better choice all around is to have most of these folks out of jail and monitored. Your priority is eliminating unnecessary incarceration and so is mine, we just have different reasons (public policy vs. my clients' best interests). I think everyone would agree that there should be a greater degree of accountability if we're going to abdicate the responsibility for monitoring compliance to a private company. Under the current system, the Government is complicit with the IID companies because it allows them to have a shorter leash to jerk probationers and suspects (who, once again, have been convicted of nothing!!!!).

I'd agree with don on eliminating the 4th Amendment, but I'd say the checkpoints need to be closer together to be more effective.

Anonymous said...

Number 1, these machines are inherently inaccurate. They are just like a breathalyzer, they take a sample of your lung air, compare it to the calbrated sample and wa-la you have some reading, regardless if it's an accurate representation of your actual state of intoxication or lack there of. I'm a Civil Engineer who works with pressure gauges, pumps, motor starters, electrical components, and I wouldn't trust these things for anyone. These things don't just require you to blow to start the thing, they also require you to blow into at various times as your riding down the road. Now just imagine that your driving around the Washington DC belt-way at rush hour, machine beeps, you blow, it registers a high reading, it asks you to blow again, it still says your over, so know you have 10 minutes to pull over to the side of the road. Lots of luck with that, imagine the carnage, I can't wait and all becasue MADD an the NHTSA distort the statistics of road deaths caused by alcohol.

You see MADD and the rst of their ilk have used the words alcohol-related to infer caused. You see, they take any death in a car fatality that has been drinking to be considered alsohol-related, whether they were driving or not. They even include intoxicated bicyclists an pedestrians in this number (you know those people who have something to drink an walk in-front of a sober driver). They are a menance to society, we need to harass all motorists for them. The majority of fatalities occurs when the person is about twice the limit (.16) and the person a .08 is not a threat to you, me , my family or anyone else, anymore than some idiot speeding, drinking their coffee, eating food or any other distraction.

I can't believe how easy the sheeple are led by these Wolves in Sheeps clothing who are nothing prohobitionist hiding behind what was once a good cause. Now gone haywire.

People who are so easy to give up their liberties and freedoms for what amounts to no safety, make me want to puke.

Braden said...

Anonymous: As an engineer, I'd imagine that you're fairly good at statistics. Have you looked at the stats related to auto wrecks related to drunk driving before and after IID laws? It doesn't sound like it. New Mexico recently passed a first offender IID law and experienced an 11% reduction in alcohol related auto fatalities. We're giving up our liberties and freedoms for no extra safety? Where do I sign up? Take a look at www.SmartStartofCalifornia.com for some information on IID technology and how it helps.

Debra said...

To: Elvez1975, Don, Anonymous, etc.:

You all have alot of misinformation about Interlocks, how they work, the technology and Smart Start's procedure concerning requests for information from Attorneys who represent our customers. I just do not have time to address all your comments, but feel free to pick up a telephone and call me.

I am sorry Elvez1975 spoke to someone at a shop level that gave him bad information,so he says. Elvez is savvy enough to go to our Web site, but not to go up the food chain at Smart Start to talk to someone else who would have given him the information he was looking for. It has always been our policy at Smart Start to provide information on our customer reports to their attorneys at no charge, including court testimony if necessary concerning those records. This is a service we provide at no charge to attorneys or their clients, our customers.

We, at Smart Start are always happy to clarify or answer any questions about the interlock device, your specific client's record or questions in general. You are all welcome to call me anytime at 800-880-3394, ext. 225 or our President, Jim Ballard at ext. 202.

The purpose of interlock is to seperate drinking from driving. If the customer blows alcohol and the interlock works then, it's purpose has been successful. We are required by state authority to provide information to your probation officers and DMV's on these records. We try to educate the P.O.'s and state folks on what to do with the information from the reports, we are not always successful. We don't think anyone wins, when the IID is removed and the person is jailed. We understand relapse, hard times, and technological mishaps, not to mentition failures NOT consistent with alcohol.

Interlock is a tool that keeps your clients licensed and driving, at the end of the day, that is better than incarceration. It is not fool proof,it is not the silver bullet, it is just a tool. Research has shown it a successful one. client testimonies have thanked us, some have said, if they had it on thier first, they would not be around for the second.

Anytime we can answer any of your questions or concerns about the technology , we are just a phone call away and happy to help.

Debra Coffey, Smart Start Interlock, 800-880-3394, ext.225

john said...

Hi nice post about vendors.....The treatment and supervision are more expensive than the ignition interlock and in our jurisdiction the offender has to pay for everything..........
====================================
simmons
California Dui

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Anonymous said...

IIDs work better than the counseling and random tests. I have 40 days left on my IID and know that I will be ecstatic to have it removed. The annoyance of spending 3-5 minutes to test before I start my car is frustrating, especially when I'm running late. The embarrassment of blowing into it on the road or while driving friends is an excellent psychological reminder: It has shamed me into being more responsible. My friends are now much more responsible as well because of what they've seen me go through.

IIDs work regardless of how debatable the science behind it is. I might be more inclined to advocate defendants' rights claim about the accuracy if I was wrongfully convicted. I wasn't and neither were the majority of defendants. Even those who are wrongfully convicted and are subject to IIDs pay a very small price to pay... As I said before, IIDs are more of a humiliating hassle than anything else.

J. Robert Blakeburn said...

The idea that the "source code" is being with held is a red herring. CMI has a standing offer to any defendant to examine the source code, as long as the information is sealed and restricted to the particular case. Once this offer is made to defense attorneys, the need for the source code usually is suddenly obviated. It is simply an accusation that "something" is hidden to impugn the Intoxilyzer.
It is true that calibration is a serious issue on interlocks. As a previous post points out, if the calibration is sloppy, a sober driver can be denied their vehicle, or an intoxicated (albeit slightly) driver may be allowed to drive. The providers are doing a pretty good job with this, at least in Oklahoma, where I am the program director. I would be the contact for a defense attorney who believes either has happened. I have not received a single such call. They do only check for alcohol - not just ethanol, but the other alcohols, such as methanol, as well. Other drugs must be handled some other way. Ethanol being far and way, the most common intoxicant for drivers, they are still the best method for separating drinking from driving. They educate the driver as to how long alcohol does stay in their system. They help make lifestyle changes. And, as long as the driver works with the program, they prevent drunk driving. My experience is that MOST drinking drivers try to work within an interlock program and won't go to their spouse's, roomate's etc. car. They are not perfect. Find me an exact and perfect instrumentality that is.

Anonymous said...

The only comment I have is, I almost got sideswiped by an individual that was trying to blow and drive into his effective piece of equipment. ...texting, cell phone use, blow unit and driving.

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Kendall B. Parker said...

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