A whole lot of Connecticut's drunk drivers will be spending a whole lot more money this year — possibly as much as $7.2 million — on technology designed to keep them from boozing it up and then getting behind the wheel.
Actually, experts warn these high-tech gizmos are so sensitive they could also keep you from driving after eating a glazed donut or using mouthwash or cologne. But hell, that might just be the price you deserve to pay for being stupid enough to drink and drive in the first place.
The trigger for this sudden boom in the "ignition interlock device" industry is a new law that took effect this month. The statute that went on the books Jan. 1 will require anyone in Connecticut convicted of a driving-under-the-influence offense to get hit with a 45-day license suspension and to have a computerized breathalyzer attached to their car for a year or longer if they want to drive.
Experts estimate that, instead of the few hundred people in Connecticut that have been using these things, we could have as many as 6,000 motorists dealing with ignition interlock devices (or IIDs). The devices cost around $100 per month.
Bill Seymour, a spokesman for the state Department of Motor Vehicles, says about 3,500 people a year plead guilty or get convicted on drunk driving charges. Multiple offenses add more people to the list.
The ignition-interlock thing itself has been around for years. You blow into a measuring device that's linked to your car ignition, and you'll be able to start it as long as the device doesn't detect alcohol (or a donut).
New models also have a "random rolling" feature that tests you like five or 15 minutes after your vehicle is first started and periodically as you drive. The idea is to keep someone from cheating to start their car.
Josh Obercon, director of operations for the company that distributes Alcohol Detection Systems ignition interlock devices (one of the IIDs approved for use in Connecticut), explains a failed or ignored test won't automatically result in the car being shut off.
Instead, the device will turn on your horn and flash your lights to warn other drivers and the cops "that this vehicle might be hazardous," Obercon says.
Michael Lawlor, Gov. Dannel Malloy's chief criminal justice advisor, and other advocates of the new law have little sympathy for any inconvenienced drunk drivers.
Lawlor points out that $100 a month for such a device would probably be a lot less than someone pays for car insurance, car taxes and gasoline. "If you can afford all that, you can afford an interlock device," he says. "If you can't, you should have thought of that before you drove drunk."
Connecticut is now one of 14 states with mandatory programs for DUI offenders.
In Connecticut, the state doesn't pay a thing for the devices. The person who gets convicted has to put up the money.
Obercon says the costs range from $60 to $150 for the initial installation, plus $80-$110 per month, with various other possible fees.
These devices are incredibly sensitive, according to Obercon, who says innocent things like those donuts, vanilla and food coloring can produce failed tests.
"We do try to educate people about this," he says of the donut dilemma.
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