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Ignition interlock device freezes drivers' lifestyles, too

By Gene Park

LAST UPDATED: 3:00 a.m. HST, Apr 15, 2011

I was three vodka sevens in on a date night, 11:30 p.m. Wednesday in Chinatown, and I wasn't sure whether my car would let me drive.

That's because on Monday I volunteered to have an ignition interlock device installed for one week. It can't be all that bad, right? 

I can tell you now: It's bad.

"Really?" my date said, as she climbed into my car and saw the wretched device and the mounted camera on my dashboard. "Really?"

"Please don't make me laugh," I pleaded. "I can't blow it right if I'm laughing." The fifth-grader in me let out a chuckle as I said that last sentence.

I swallowed my pride (and some saliva) as I wrapped my lips around the mouthpiece. I blew, my cheeks puffed like a puffer fish. Three seconds later and I started humming (you have to in order to pass).

My date quivered as she held in her laughter. She looked like she was getting electrocuted. I looked like an idiot.

Of course, I laughed. The device's screen showed "abort hum." That doesn't count as a fail; it just means I have to keep trying again. I think I got it right on my fourth try.

I passed, because even though I had had three cocktails, it was over a period of five hours, and I'd had several glasses of water.

If I had one drink and tried it out, there was a chance I could've gotten a fail, and my car's ignition would refuse to start. That's because the device doesn't let you drive if you're over .02 percent breath alcohol concentration, well below the .08 legal limit.

I forced this embarrassment upon myself because I wanted to help dispel any notion to readers that getting arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol for the first time is not a big deal because the recently implemented law allows those arrested to drive if they have this device.

It's an option for first-time offenders who wish to continue to drive.

So far this year, as of April 11, 201 people have opted to have the device installed in their cars, according to state records.

That's out of about 1,700 DUI arrests in 2011, although it's uncertain how many of those were eligible to have the device installed.

But even I wasn't prepared for how disruptive this thing can be to one's lifestyle. Several notes:

» It's hard to blow into. It took me two days to learn the proper technique (stop laughing). I've been late to appointments because I wasn't able to get my car started in time.

Just the past two days, I've gotten used to how to properly let out enough air while humming, so I've been consistent in starting my car.

» It randomly tests you as you drive. I was told the first one is always within 15 minutes. But in the past few days, the despicable device has beeped me for a test within three minutes of me starting the car. Apparently I was given a very needy version of the device.

The device gives you six minutes to pull over and perform the random test. If you don't, you get a violation. Get five violations, and you have 72 hours to take the device back to the vendor for recalibration, or it will lock the ignition.

» Mouthwash will register as a fail, so rinse with water if you gargle. I tested it by giving my mouth a good rinse with some Listerine. I had minty fresh breath, but unfortunately, I couldn't drive my car anywhere. After a fail, you're given 15 minutes before you can try again.

Other embarrassing scenarios I've been in:

» Having to blow while at the drive-through window of a fast-food restaurant.

» Other drivers seeing me blowing as they pass by me.

» Taking forever to get out of a parking stall and having another car wait for me while I'm trying to find the right pitch for the hum.

Did I mention that you have to pay $89 a month plus tax to go through this humiliation?

Next week I'll write about the results of each breath test, maybe post a picture from the camera (that's how it is determined whether you let others blow for you).

If you have the device in your car, email me your funniest or most frustrating experience with it. I promise I won't publish your name.

As for me, I can't wait to get this thing uninstalled on Monday. If you couldn't tell, this assignment really blows.


Gene Park can be reached at or on Twitter as @GenePark.

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