Congress Discusses Requiring Cars to Have Ignition Interlock Devices

Technology is always changing our lives, for better or worse. Congress recently held a hearing to discuss whether every car should be equipped with a device to measure if a driver has been drinking. Safety advocates strongly encourage such a move, but the reality of this seems very far away.

What Would This Mean?

These safety advocates would want to see an ignition interlock device in every car. An ignition interlock device is technology where a driver blows into a tube and it measures the driver’s blood alcohol content. The car won’t start if the person registers a blood alcohol content.

There are several companies that are working on less invasive alcohol-measuring devices. These include a device that detect alcohol through the fingertips or a device that measures the normal breathing of the person behind the wheel. These companies acknowledge that these newer technologies are not yet complete and are still in the early stages of development. The ignition interlock is still the go-to device for alcohol-measurements for drivers.

How Close is This to Reality?

The big car manufacturers are not advocating for this technology to be placed in cars. In reality, big companies generally push back against federal regulations which force changes to be made.

In addition, the technology isn’t free. The cost would be passed on to consumers, and this would create more push back by the public.

An ignition interlock device in every car would be unpopular and cumbersome for people who do a lot of driving. Your author, for instance, travels to three different courts a day, starting and stopping his car every time. Blowing into a machine every time would be a hassle and waste of time (I generally don’t drink between court hearings, don’t worry). I imagine this same mindset would apply to many others. Remember, the vast majority of drivers and not drinking and driving.

The Problem With Ignition Interlock Devices for the Public

Many of these ignition interlock devices are far from perfect. As machines, they have problems. They often shut down whenever a car has a battery issue (read Michigan wintertime).

Whenever this occurs, the Michigan Secretary of State hauls the driver into a hearing in which the driver must prove they did nothing wrong and should keep their driving privileges. The driver’s license gets suspended when an alleged violation with the ignition interlock occurs. The hearing usually takes at least a month to schedule, during which time they cannot drive. This could result in thousands and thousands of people losing their driving privileges either for a short period of time or longer.

The Current Status of Ignition Interlock Laws in Michigan

In Michigan, only certain drivers are required to put ignition interlock devices in their cars. These include people convicted of operating while intoxicated with a high BAC (a BAC of .17 or higher). These drivers must keep an ignition interlock device in their cars for about a year with a restricted driver’s license.

Also, people who lose their license from two or more DUI convictions must have an ignition interlock device in their car with a restricted license for at least a year before they may drive with a full license without an ignition interlock.

The third group of drivers with ignition interlock devices are those people in sobriety court. Sobriety court is a court program for those convicted of at least a second DUI offense. A second DUI conviction within seven years results in a driver’s license revocation. Sobriety court is a way around this, allowing drivers to keep their licenses while going through a rigorous program to help them achieve and maintain sobriety.

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Call Sam Bernstein at 734-883-9584 or e-mail at

Sam Bernstein is a Washtenaw County Criminal Defense Attorney.

ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.

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