In my day-to-day work as a Michigan driver's license restoration lawyer and a Michigan DUI attorney, I deal with the whole panorama of problems that arise for the use of an ignition interlock unit, from false positive test results to the utter lack of any real "tech support" or help from the vendors. In fact, it's hard to use the term "ignition interlock" and not use the word "problems" in the same sentence. While the technology has come a long way over the last number of years, it's still fraught with innumerable problems. In truth, it's far more a matter of luck, rather than anything else, if and when someone drives a year or more driving with one of these units and things go smoothly.
A few days before this article was written, I attended an ignition interlock seminar put on by one of the vendors of these units. I learned a number of things, but chief amongst them, and somewhat to my dismay, is that I happen to know a lot more about these units than most of my colleagues. It's not that I'm any smarter than anyone else, but rather that I have loads of experience with these devices as part of my Michigan driver's license restoration practice. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for the reader dealing with an interlock nightmare, virtually all of my considerable interlock experience is the result of problems caused by these units. It's likely that if you're reading this, you've run into some problem with yours, or are looking for someone that has.
Rather than laundry list what can go wrong with these units, I think that a few significant points from my recent seminar are relevant here. First, although the particular vendor hosting the seminar did a good job of showing how much these devices have been improved as a result of new and evolving technology, it had to be admitted that they are machines, and, as a result, they do, admittedly, malfunction.
Second, and perhaps most significant, there is really nobody who works with these units who has any comprehensive knowledge about them. That's not to say that there aren't engineers and other technical people at the design and manufacturing level who don't know what they're doing. In the field, however, in terms of lawyers, Judges, probation officers, Michigan Secretary of State Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) hearing officers, and even service technicians, it seems that there is a decided lack of understanding about ignition interlock units, how they work, and how often they can be wrong, as well as why they can appear to be functioning normally and produce inaccurate results.
I left the seminar feeling like more of an expert than anyone there because I have a thorough knowledge of the legal situations in which ignition interlock units are used, the evidentiary standards that these units are supposed to meet, both in court and before the Secretary of State, meaning the DAAD, the standards of reliability that are (often incorrectly) attributed to them, and the practical and technical considerations that govern how they work in the real world.
Third, the science "behind" ignition interlock units is very different from the science behind the "DataMaster" breath testing machine used in police stations after a person has been arrested for a DUI. This is an area I intend to cover in another article or articles, but the key point here is that the DataMaster is supposed to give a very accurate reading of how much alcohol you have consumed. It goes without saying that there are limitations with that, and that is fertile ground for a DUI lawyer to challenge the evidence. Even so, we are told that the DataMaster can and does distinguish between "mouth alcohol," meaning residual amounts of trace alcohol NOT consumed but left in the mouth from things like food and mouthwash, and real alcohol that has been consumed by a person. I have personally attended seminars where that has been demonstrated to be untrue, but the larger point that relates to an ignition interlock unit is that even the manufacturers warn that the unit cannot tell the difference between trace alcohol from mouthwash or straight whiskey. As the presenter at my recent ignition interlock seminar explained their limitations, "These things detect alcohol. Alcohol is alcohol."
And for all of that, anyone dealing with an ignition interlock unit clearly did not win any evidentiary challenges to the DataMaster breath testing machine used in the police station in his or her underlying DUI case. That brings us to the present...