(Sound of rustling a plastic mouthpiece wrapper)
Houseman: “You’re gonna have your mouthpiece that you want to keep handy …”
Gary Houseman is holding a small plastic mouthpiece inside a wrapper. It goes with what’s called an “ignition interlock device” – basically, a breathalyzer wired to a car’s ignition. Houseman owns a Sacramento auto shop, and he’s one of the state’s 220 authorized dealers to install the devices. He’s demonstrating how it works.
Houseman: “It’ll tell you to blow. You have to exhale into the end of the unit for four seconds. (exhale) Then you will inhale for four seconds (inhale) and it’s counting it with beeps. Then you will exhale for four seconds (exhale), then it’ll double-beep. And if it passes, it’ll say passed, okay to start. Then you would start your car and drive your car.”
But if there’s even a trace of alcohol on your breath, the ignition won’t start. And not just that – the device records the fact that you tried to drink-and-drive.
Right now, California judges only order a fraction of convicted drunk drivers to install an ignition interlock device – mostly repeat offenders. But starting Thursday, they’ll be assigned to all DUI offenders in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare Counties as part of a pilot program. The drivers themselves will have to pay for the devices, which cost at least $75.
Feuer: “The goal of the bill is to deter drunk driving and convince Californians that they ought to place safety on the road above all else.”
Assemblyman Mike Feuer wrote the law last year. He hopes it’ll make Californians think twice before driving drunk. He also believes it’ll reduce the state’s high rate of repeat drunk driving.
Feuer: “The use of ignition interlocks in other states has shown that once individuals get in the habit of driving in a sober way, because the interlock requires it, they continue that habit even when the interlock is removed from their vehicle.”
There are a couple of potential questions about the devices. They register any amount of alcohol, so it’s possible some medicines, minty gum or mouthwash could trigger false positives. And since they also require random breathalyzer tests while the car is running, a driver forced to breathe into the tube could get distracted.
The pilot program runs through 2015. Feuer hopes lawmakers will then expand it to the entire state.