Most people don’t start digging for information about having problems with ignition interlock devices until they’ve actually run into one. In previous articles, I have examined all kinds of interlock issues, like missed rolling retests, positive test results and “tamper/circumvent” violations, and I will link to some of them throughout this piece. Our focus in this installment, though, will to be much wider, and, instead of concentrating on the mechanics of the interlock, will instead zero in on why a person needs to take the whole thing seriously, and how attitude is everything.
Like so many other of my articles, this installment is based on the real-life experience my team and I have as a Michigan driver’s license restoration law firm. There are certain things in life that just don’t make sense, and one we have to contend with quite often is that, despite our instructions to our clients who have to use an ignition interlock, and in addition to the clear and explicit directions from the Secretary of State about how to properly operate the device, many people just skip over the details, being satisfied instead to only merely the very basics of how to use it.
Unfortunately, the interlock is not one of those things that will generally work out very well in the long run if someone’s understanding of it doesn’t go much farther than what’s in the “quick start” guide. This goes as much to a person’s attitude rather as anything else, because a person must never lose sight of the fact that a primary purpose of the interlock is for the Secretary of State to keep an eye on them. If that happens, they’re very likely to run into problems later on, because being on an interlock is really a kind of “probation” for anyone who wins back a Michigan driver’s license.
In practice, though, once someone gets far enough using the interlock to get their vehicle start started and moving, they think, “I’ve got this.”
Until something goes wrong.
To be sure, there are plenty of things that can go wrong with the interlock device that are not the fault of the user. However, the fact is that the majority of ignition interlock problems are the direct result of someone not properly following directions and/or doing what they’re supposed to do.
In a very real way, the instructions regarding proper interlock use are pretty much meaningless if a person isn’t first interested in making sure he or she understands them, and is using the device accordingly.
In fact, the “how to” part of all this isn’t very hard, and that’s why it can be so frustrating when someone who knows enough to get moving then drives off, thinking they’ve got everything under control.
Of course, life being what it is, people can and often do innocently mess up here or there while on the interlock. As the old saying goes, “$hit happens.”
The Secretary of State is actually rather understanding when that happens, and will often give a person another chance if he or she can show that their problem with the interlock was not the result of drinking, or any kind of attempt to cover up that he or she had been drinking.
Take note of this: for anyone who has won a restricted license, drinking is the one and ultimate unforgivable thing that will result in a person’s license being revoked all over again, no matter what.
If a person on the interlock is found to have been consuming alcohol at any time after winning a license appeal, it’s game over, and bye-bye driver’s license for a long time.
However, if a person on an interlock misses a test, or even if he or she has an errant positive test result that can be shown to have not come from the consumption of beverage alcohol, then a hearing officer can usually be persuaded to give him or her a second chance.
These kind of “forgivable” mistakes happen when someone eats something, or drinks a (non-alcoholic) beverage too soon before blowing in the machine, despite the state’s rather clear instructions to NOT do that.
When something like that happens, subsequent breath tests over the following minutes will show what amounts to dissipation (as in evaporation) of alcohol that’s very different from the kind of metabolization that takes place after someone has consumed an alcoholic beverage.
However – and this is the important part – the Michigan Secretary of State’s instructions advise any person who gets a positive result or who otherwise misses a test to get a timely PBT (portable breath) or EtG (urine) test.
This is where things start to go wrong for people, because, for all kinds of reasons, a lot of people DO NOT follow through and do this as instructed.
At least in our practice, the vast majority of clients who either provide a positive sample or miss a test had not been drinking, and they, of course, know that.
Consequently, when they wind up getting a positive result, or they otherwise miss a test, but then produce a clean breath test result on their interlock a few minutes later, they figure everything is fine, and their interlock machine proves as much.
Even though the device may have recorded a clean test that pretty much shows the person hadn’t been drinking, this DOES NOT negate the Secretary of State’s expectation that the person will nevertheless go and get that timely PBT or EtG test.
I use the work “expectation” there because the state, for its part, falls deplorably short of being clear on this very important point.
In the written interlock instructions, the Secretary of State states that, if a person fails or misses a breath test, it is “advisable that you obtain an objective test to prove you were not drinking.”
In practice, the hearing officers basically EXPECT a person to get either a PBT or EtG test in any of those circumstances.
I have covered this in several other articles and have made the point that there is a huge discrepancy between the “advisable” language in the state’s written orders and the fact that when a person shows up for a hearing and has to explain either a failed or missed test, he or she will largely be expected to have brought an independent and timely PBT or EtG test.
In that regard, the Secretary of State should really update the language in its orders and make clear that it expects a person to obtain a PBT or EtG test if there has been a failed or missed breath test, because it does.
My team and I make sure our clients know this, and we do that by explaining it to them, up front. We AWAYS go over proper interlock use as part of our services in driver’s license restoration cases.
We have learned, from experience, that people are going to miss these details in the state’s order, and because we know the importance of this information, we make sure to separately explain the ins and outs of using the interlock with each of our restoration clients.
As a side note, a LOT of our license appeal clients are from out-of-state, so none of this interlock stuff applies to them, or to anyone seeking the clearance of a Michigan hold on his or her driving record so that he or she can get a license elsewhere.
Thus, the interlock use instructions only matter to someone who wins the restoration of a Michigan driver’s license.
Because our firm guarantees to win every license restoration and clearance appeal case we take, that means we go over how to use the interlock with loads of people.
That’s fine; we like it that way.
This also means that when any of our clients does run into an issue and DOESN’T follow up with either a timely PBT or EtG test, one has to wonder what they missed, especially because they got double instructions – both from the state AND from us!
This is not to imply that these people simply don’t care.
In the real world, no matter how much we try to explain otherwise, once a person learns how to start his or her vehicle and then provide the required breath samples while driving, they understandably conclude they’ve got things figured out, especially when they know they won’t be drinking.
It’s just that they’re wrong about that.
Often, people will go a long time without any problems on the interlock, and every day they drive without incident reinforces the idea that “I’ve got this.”
Until something happens.
Sometimes, that “thing” comes in the form a formal ignition interlock violation.
When a person opens the envelope from the Secretary of State, they find that not only have they been violated, but also that their license is scheduled to be revoked again (this is technically called a “reinstatement of original action,” that original action being the revocation the their driver’s license), and that they only have 14 days to request a hearing to challenge the violation.
When they do a little math, they realize that no matter what, the re-revocation of their license is going to go into effect before they’ll ever have a hearing on the violation, so they hop online to see if there is anything that can be done to prevent them from not being able to drive in the meantime.
This is one of the main reasons we make it a point to go over proper interlock use and what to do if there’s a problem with all of our clients because, for a lot of people, there will be a problem.
What many people get wrong is thinking that if they just don’t drink, they’ll be okay.
That’s not enough.
Not drinking is important of course, but knowing what to do if there is an interlock issue is also important, as well.
Think of it this way; if you do something stupid like try to barbecue hamburgers in your living room, on a carpeted floor, and you wind up burning your house down, you can’t really blame anyone but yourself.
However, just because a person doesn’t intend to do anything stupid like that doesn’t mean he or she is also absolved from knowing what steps to take if something else goes wrong that’s not his or her fault.
Accordingly, if a person is using an appliance, like a toaster, and it catches fire through no fault of their own, do they just stand there while it burns and say, “well, I didn’t do anything wrong,” or do they quickly unplug the unit, throw it in the sink and douse it with water to prevent the fire from spreading?
In fact, many people take the whole “if something happens” idea seriously enough to have a fire extinguisher on hand. This is called a “back up plan,” and it’s why most vehicles come with a spare tire.
The kinds of interlock problems we see most frequently arise from people on the interlock doing things like letting other people use their vehicle, and then blowing into their machine ( yuck…), NOT following the state’s explicit directions like leaving the vehicle unattended while it’s running, eating or drinking too soon before trying to start it and providing a breath sample, or having some kind of issue with the battery dying or being disconnected (this often happens when someone has work done on their vehicle).
Beyond those garden-variety things, if you can name a problem, our office has probably seen and dealt with it multiple times.
The real upshot of all of this is that by simply figuring “I’ve got this,” loads of people run head first into problems with the interlock, some of which give rise to an actual ignition interlock violation.
Instead of “I got this,” the attitude needs to be “I want to make sure that I do have this.”
Here, we circle back to the biggest no-no of all: drinking. Drinking is a complete deal-breaker, and our firm won’t waste our time or someone’s money to handle an interlock violation that arises because someone actually did drink.
Think about it: If a person wins back his or her license after convincing a hearing officer that he or she has been sober and is a safe bet to never drink again, only to then go out and start drinking, and, on top of that, thereafter blows into his or her own interlock unit thereby providing evidence against themselves, what’s to be said, beyond WTF?
Any person who does that clearly has unresolved issues. The best we can do is hope that such a catastrophic screw up will be the wake-up call he or she needs to finally quit drinking for good and ultimately get straight.
I could go on forever, but the rather simple point I wanted to make in this article is that if a person wins back his or her Michigan license and, like almost everyone else, is required to drive for at least a year on a restricted license with an ignition interlock, he or she needs to take everything about it seriously.
To be sure, most people do take their license situation seriously, and they should.
No matter how you cut it, though, having the right attitude is everything when it comes to success on the interlock.
If you’re looking for a lawyer to win back your Michigan driver’s license, obtain the clearance of a Michigan hold your driving record so that you can get a license in another state, or to fight an ignition interlock violation, be a good consumer and read around.
Read how other lawyers explain the license appeal process and all that goes with it, and how they explain their various approaches to it. When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. You can learn a lot by actually talking to a live person.
Our firm can handle any Michigan license restoration, clearance or interlock violation matter no matter where you live. All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call.
My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions, explain things, and even compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you. We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.