High-tech driver behaviour control devices range from breathalyzers to radar guns and speed and red light cameras. We have become accustomed to such devices. They do not feel sci-fi futuristic anymore or overly intrusive of our civil liberties. They seem to offer relatively low cost/high benefit—public safety—fixes. Our faith in their efficacy and operational efficiency is more surprised than fundamentally challenged by technical failing, administrative misuse or some unexpected, disenabling ‘glitch’.
So it should be no surprise that effective February 1, 2009, new British Columbia regulations under the Motor Vehicle Act have instituted a mandatory ignition interlock program for all criminally convicted drinking drivers, and drivers who receive multiple 24-hour roadside prohibitions (RPs) or 90-day Administrative Driving Prohibitions (ADPs), who wish to either regain their licensing privileges or continue to drive.
The program is offered in partnership with Guardian Interlock Systems on a user-pay basis. The term varies from one to three years depending on the number of convictions and prohibitions. Criminally convicted drinking drivers, having lost their driver’s license, must complete the Responsible Driver Program, a rehabilitation program for drinking drivers, before they can participate as a step towards regaining unrestricted driving privileges. Drivers with multiple RPs or ADPs must participate in both programs concurrently if they wish to continue driving. The Superintendent of Motor Vehicles also has the discretion to refer to the program drivers whose drinking driving offences occurred prior to February 1, 2009.
Participants pay to have an ignition interlock device wired into their vehicle’s ignition system. To start their vehicle they must blow into the dashboard mounted device. If it detects alcohol below a pre-set value—usually .04 or lower—the vehicle will not start. Once the vehicle is operational, from time to time on a random basis, the device requires more acceptable samples. A failing breath test initiates a repeat warning to shut down the vehicle that, unheeded, activates the horn and hazard lights until the engine is turned off. All samples are recorded in the device, as are any attempts to disconnect or bypass it. Program monitoring includes regular downloading of these records from the device.
Such programs have been developing in various forms throughout Canada and the US for almost 20 years, and their effectiveness in reducing the crash risk posed by drivers who drink and drive and in reducing the recidivism of these drivers who have been caught and either convicted or prohibited are still being studied. The studies have also considered the many factors that make up an effective program: the threshold for entry, how long it should last, the threshold for exit, the effect of the cost and an individual participant’s motivation. There seems to be a consensus that such programs interrupt drinking-driving behaviour of willing participants but do not, by themselves, in the long term, change it. The BC program seems to have at least considered, if not addressed, many of these issues.
Anyway, the bottom line is that a person impaired by alcohol cannot take control of a vehicle equipped with an interlock device.