About two weeks ago, I had an interlock device installed in my vehicle. It took some getting used to at first, but has since become second-nature.

Interlock Device – How it Works

The device is surprisingly low-tech.  It uses a system of LED lights and audio tones.  There is nothing digital about it.  It has LED lights for the following actions/results:

Blow (accompanied by a loud, continuous beeping sound): it is time to blow into the device to record your current BAC
Wait: a blow time is upcoming in the next 45 seconds
Abort: your blow attempt was not successful, and you will have to try again
Pass (accompanied by a unique chime/tone): you did not record any BAC, and you can now start your vehicle, or continue operation if this was during a rolling retest
Warn: you recorded a BAC, but it was under the device’s minimum threshold (note that the minimum threshold for your case may be 0.000, even if the device’s threshold is 0.02; therefore, you may be flagged for a violation when your logs are reviewed)
Fail: you recorded a BAC above the minimum threshold; if this is your first attempt, you are locked out for 10-15 minutes and will be required to blow again.  This ensures that you did not have a “false-positive” from a benign source of mouth alcohol, such as mouthwash, cologne, pizza (yes, the yeast from pizza dough creates traces of alcohol in your mouth), etc.  Again, you are REQUIRED to blow again in 10-15 minutes, so do not walk away from your vehicle.  Failing the retest or failing to attempt the retest both result in violations that are reported to your case worker.
Run: the blow attempt was successful and no BAC was recorded; your vehicle can be started.  This light remains on while the vehicle is running.
Service: your device is due for a maintenance appointment.
Power: the device is powered on
Lockout: you are currently locked out of your vehicle and cannot start it or use the device if this light is on.

Since there is no digital display, if you fail any attempts, you are not told the exact BAC recorded by the device.  However, this information is recorded in its internal logs, which are passed on to your case manager after your next maintenance appointment.

My Experience With the LifeSafer Interlock Device

When I first tried to use the device, I had issues with the exact rhythm of blowing and humming.  It is not like a standard breathalyzer device, such as the ones you used with the police department the night of your arrest.  Those do not require a humming sound, and require a deep lung blow.  These interlock devices require a combination of blowing through the lungs and the mouth, as well as a humming sound (the recommended sound is dooooooo).  If you do not get this correct, the abort light comes on, and you must wait 45 seconds to attempt again.  Apparently, a fifth abort will be flagged, and you should notify your case manager.

After installation, I got the hang of it on my fourth attempt, and the installation technician assured me it would become second nature.  When I left the installation facility, I had several more aborts over the next few days, but sure enough, the rhythm became second nature.

In Virginia, the installation includes a camera which takes a picture of the user as they try to start the vehicle.  Unfortunately, this camera is mounted on the windshield and is very visible.  It looks like a Go-Pro camera.  Not only is this a security concern if you live in an area with higher crime, but one can become very self-conscious of this thing.  Do other drivers know what it is?  Do they think I’m filming myself driving?  Is this like a scarlet letter that says ‘hey, here’s a drunk driver?

You will probably think the same thing about rolling retests.  Are the drivers around me seeing me blow into this thing?

The answer is probably not.  Unless someone has used one before, they likely don’t notice it.  Also, think about how many times you have seen someone else use one?  Except for a friend or loved one, probably never.  People just don’t peer into other people’s vehicles while driving.  The only place I noticed them?  Leaving my VASAP meetings, because everyone had one installed.

My subsequent experience with the interlock device has become rather mundane. 

Remember, the number one way to ensure that you do not fail due to a BAC is to not drink.  What if you do choose to drink during your interlock requirement period? It would be wise to purchase a separate breathalyzer device to make sure you have no BAC before attempting to start your vehicle.  I recommend the AlcoMate Premium AL7000 device.  If this device shows any BAC, do not attempt to start your vehicle with your interlock device.

Remember that alcohol metabolism slows down considerably when you sleep, and starts up again once you are awake and moving.  “Sleeping it off” is a dangerous myth, and many interlock violations occur in the morning when someone is slightly hungover without realizing it.

As I previously mentioned, the process in general becomes second nature.  With the Lifesafer device, you get in your vehicle, turn the ignition to on (the last position before start) for three seconds, then back off; wait for the red light on the camera to turn on, hold the device to the camera until the red light turns off, wait for the blow light and tone, and then do the blowing/humming rhythm into the device.  Once the run light and tone happen, start the vehicle and you’re on your way.  4-6 minutes later, the blow light and tone go off again, and you do your retest.  45-60 minutes later, another blow light and tone, and another retest.

Interlock Device – What Happens When You Log a Violation?

A gentleman arrived to the 7th of 10 VASAP classes and the instructor immediately informed him, in front of the rest of the class, that he was expelled from the class due to a violation.  His VASAP case officer found a “serious” violation in his logs from the previous month, and served notice to the instructor.  The instructor told him (again, in front of everyone, perhaps as a warning to the rest of us), that he would receive a letter from his case manager instructing him to report for a meeting.  If he failed to show up to that meeting, he would receive a bench warrant for his arrest on a probation violation.  The instructor recommended that he contact his case manager immediately the next business day for further information.

The gentleman said he did not recall having any violations, but the instructor was not able to do anything for him.  He had to leave the class and take it up with his case manager.

Lessons learned from this: ensure ZERO violations; if you have a violation and you believe it was not your fault, contact your case manager immediately or by noon the next business day.  This way you can at least explain, and possibly go through a urine test to prove that you have not been drinking.  If your case manager pursues the violation, it would be time to contact a lawyer.

I know living with an interlock device sounds like a frustrating thing to get used to. 

And it is, for the first couple of days.  After that?  You adjust, and it becomes second nature.  Remember a two things:

  1. You are REQUIRED to have this thing for a court-ordered amount of time if you ever want to drive unrestricted again. So just get it over with.
  2. You are REQUIRED to use this thing for your court-ordered amount of time with ZERO violations. A violation will not only start your time over, but could also lead to probation violations, jail time and further license suspension.  It is in your best interest to go above and beyond to ensure zero violations.  If you do choose to drink during your interlock period, purchasing a $120 portable breathalyzer device to test yourself is cheaper than the costs of a violation, which may include another $400 VASAP enrollment fee, extension of your interlock monthly fees and possible fines and attorney fees.  And you do not want to go to jail.

You can do it.

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