Health problems could hinder use of ignition interlock device

Drunk driving laws and penalties seem to be getting more stringent all the time. This is particularly the case for repeat DUI offenses. Here in West Virginia, a third-offense DUI is considered a felony. If convicted, you could face jail time, fines and be required to have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle.

IIDs are becoming more widely used in West Virginia and around the country. In some cases, they are used as punishment. In other cases, they are used as a way to allow DUI defendants to retain or regain their driving privileges while preventing them from driving drunk. But what if the DUI defendant cannot successfully use an IID due to health problems?

Certain DUI offenders find it very difficult or even impossible to use an IID because they suffer from respiratory issues that restrict their breath volume and pressure. IIDs often require a strong gust of breath in order to get a reading. Inadequate breath volume may prevent the vehicle from starting. If the vehicle is already in motion and the IID randomly calls for a retest, inadequate breath volume could cause the IID to shut off the car altogether.

Recently, a convicted DUI offender in Missouri filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state department that handles IID-related matters. He alleges that he was unable to use the IID required by the state because of his asthma. He was initially accommodated with an alternate IID that requires less breath to get a reading, but he found it impossible to use this one as well.

The state refused to offer or agree to any other accommodations (including an ankle bracelet that can measure a person's blood-alcohol concentration through sensors on the skin). The man claims that the state was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although his IID sentence has already been served, he is pursuing the lawsuit to help other convicted offenders who may be facing similar problems.

Ignition interlock devices are often a worthwhile condition of licensure for convicted DUI offenders. But states need to do a better job of ensuring that all eligible offenders are able to use them.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Asthmatic Challenges DUI Interlock System," Joe Harris, Feb. 9, 2015

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