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What Causes Ignition Interlock Device Problems?

Ignition interlock devices are a modern solution to a problem that has been with us since vehicles were first invented. How do we stop someone who is impaired from getting behind the wheel? How do we punish those who make the choice to drive impaired without taking away their vehicles and making it impossible for them to work or participate in their communities?

Interlock devices are one of the most practical solutions. When these devices are placed in a vehicle, the vehicle cannot start until the driver has provided a breath sample that is below the legal limit.

But interlock devices are not perfect. Either device or user errors can cause them to provide false readings. With the right knowledge, you may be able to prevent these problems instead of being forced to deal with them on short notice.


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Problem Cause #1: User Error

The interlock device is designed to lock you out when you fail a breathalyzer test, but the technology is not yet perfect, and it can, unfortunately, lock you out for many other reasons. Fortunately, the causes of these improper lockouts are mostly documented already, and you can avoid them with the right habits.

To avoid a user-error related lockout, make sure you do all of the following


Wait 10-15 minutes after eating or drinking

The device may have trouble reading your breath sample properly if you eat or drink directly before you use it. Make sure that you wait long enough before you take the test, or you may fail even if you haven’t had a drop of alcohol.


Provide a proper sample

Different devices have different methods of sampling. You can’t just use whatever technique you want and expect the device to work properly. Make sure you memorize the proper method provided to you by the service center, whether that’s blowing for a long time, or using quick in-and-out breaths.


Problem Cause #2: Device Malfunction

It is possible for interlock devices to malfunction, even when used properly. In order to avoid these problems, it’s important that you never miss an appointment to have the device serviced or calibrated. If the device malfunctions despite the fact that you have kept all of your appointments, the following reasons may be to blame.


Build-up in the Testing Tube

Particles from your breath or your car can build up in a tube that is designed to receive samples. This may result in failed tests even when you have not had any alcohol. Make sure that your service appointments always include a cleaning of the testing tube.


Electrical Error

Electrical problems may be caused by the device itself or the vehicle it is installed in. If the device was not properly installed, it may receive feedback from the vehicle’s electrical system that causes the interlock device to improperly sense tampering. This can result in a permanent lockout.

The interlock device may not be able to receive samples at all if it is not receiving enough power from the vehicle. This happens frequently with older vehicles, and can also happen if you have a lot of peripherals in your vehicles, such as speaker systems, heads-up displays, and advanced comfort devices. Take your car to an automotive electrician to verify that the system itself isn’t overloaded by the addition of an interlock device.

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