On Nov. 10, an unidentified 31-year-old driver struck Alexis Butler, 18, as she backed out of a driveway in a Toyota Camry in Arlington, Texas. Butler died a week later. There were no skid marks or apparent attempts made by the 31-year-old to stop, according to police. He said that he had been distracted while performing a “re-test” with an ignition interlock device, which is required in many states for drivers who are found guilty of drunken driving.
The driver has not been charged with a crime, according to the (Fort Worth) Star-Telegram, and police were investigating whether he committed one.
According to KXAS:
“Number one thing we’ll look at is tracking down the original court order to read exactly what it said,” said Lt. Chris Cook, with the Arlington Police Department. “And more importantly for us, as a police department, is to determine what the manufacturer recommendation is as far as the guidelines in how to operate this type of equipment. It’s very concerning to us, as a police department, that an individual may be operating some type of ignition equipment while they’re in a moving vehicle.”
Ignition interlock devices are becoming an ever-more-common way for states to keep drunk drivers off the streets, requiring drivers to blow into the device before starting the engine. Some of the devices also take a driver’s picture in the act of blowing, while requiring continuous testing of the driver throughout a trip.
And while the exact details of the Arlington case aren’t clear, according to LifeSafer, which calls itself the “nation’s leader in ignition interlock technology,” the testing-while-driving thing is common—or at least common enough to devote some space in their FAQ about it.
CAN SOMEONE ELSE TAKE THE TEST FOR ME TO START THE VEHICLE (I.E. “CURB SERVICE”)?
No, most states have laws that include fines and jail for individuals assisting in the circumvention of an interlock. Additionally, interlocks randomly ask for additional tests while the engine is running. If the retest is not taken or failed, the unit will log a Retest Violation and the alarm horn will honk until the vehicle is turned off. Many states use camera interlocks that take a picture during each test as a measure against this type of circumvention.
WILL THE REQUIREMENTS TO TAKE A “RUNNING RETEST” CAUSE ME TO TAKE MY EYES OFF THE ROAD CREATING A HAZARDOUS SITUATION?
No, when the interlock device signals for a running retest, you have a few minutes to provide the sample or to pull over to the side of the road in a safe area to provide the breath sample. There are no buttons to push; you must only breathe into the unit to complete a breath sample.
One can imagine situations (on an Interstate, for example), where pulling over isn’t the safest idea. In the Arlington case, the 31-year-old was driving on a residential street, meaning that he likely had opportunities to pull over and re-test, but, according to a Washington Post story from last year, testing-whiling-driving is pretty common behavior among drivers, including Uber and Lyft drivers.
Here’s one account from the story about a couple in Florida who rode with a driver using an interlock device:
Then there’s the Jacksonville, Fla., couple who decided to try Uber for Saturday night dinner and drinks with friends. The driver had a 4.8 rating with customers, so they were “hopeful.”
The wife, Charlene Hewitt, recounted the incident on the website UberPeople.net, which describes itself as an independent community of ride-share drivers.
It was June. From the back seat of the car, Charlene Hewitt, 33, spotted a camera mounted to the dashboard.
“He said, ‘Yeah, it takes my picture and uploads it when I blow in here.’ I hadn’t noticed the Breathalyzer from the back seat.
“When we were almost to our destination, it started beeping. He had to blow and hum into the thing for what seemed like an eternity, almost missing our turn in the process. He has to do this every 20 minutes.”
For once, I don’t really have a hot take here: drunk driving is bad and any kind of technology that keeps drunk drivers off the streets is good, on paper. On the other hand, fumbling around with a device in a moving vehicle that is not the steering wheel is exactly the kind of behavior we do not want drivers to do. Commenters? Before you say it: for drivers, yes, one obvious solution is to never drink and drive to begin with.