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Ignition Interlock and SCRAM Devices

Ignition Interlock and SCRAM Devices

As the result of pressure from lobbying groups, the federal government has increased the pressure on the states to take measures to ensure repeat offenders do not drink and drive and in some cases, consume alcohol at all. Similar to the same methods used to force the states to lower the legal limit from .10 to .08 and increase the legal drinking age to 21, the federal government threatens to withhold highway money unless the states change their state laws to reflect the demands of the federal government.

In Colorado, if you lose your license for a per se revocation at the Department of Revenue, the motor vehicle division will require an interlock for early reinstatement on a first offense.

Ignition Interlock

The most widely used method to prevent drunk drivers from re-offending is requiring the installation of an ignition interlock device. We call this device the "blow and go". There are several companies offering these devices which are all essentially the same device. These companies include Smart Start, Guardian Interlock, Draeger Safety Diagnostics, Inc., and National Interlock Services Ltd.

An ignition interlock is basically a portable, bare-bones breathalyzer. However, it does not have the same screening filters to keep out interferents like the bigger machines used by law enforcement agencies do.

The device attaches to your vehicle under the dash near the driver's right leg. It is installed directly into the ignition system of your vehicle. According to the manufacturers, the devices do not cause any permanent damage to your vehicle. The devices are small, the approximate size of 3.5 inches by 6 inches. This box will have a blow tube on one end and a cord similar to a telephone cord on the other end extending under the dash.

To start your vehicle, you will have to blow into the ignition interlock device. If any alcohol is detected in your breath, your car won't start. If you think, "I'll just have my sober friend blow and I'll be off." Nice thinking, but you will have to blow again after you drive a while, usually every 5 to 30 minutes while driving. The only way around this would be to take your friend that hasn't consumed any alcohol with you. In which case, your friend should be the one driving!

On a first offense in Colorado where your BAC was .169 or lower, the DMV requires the installation of an ignition interlock device for 8 months after you have served the 1 month of not driving. You can avoid the interlock altogether if you choose to serve the full 9 month revocation. If your BAC is .170 or higher, the DMV will require an ignition interlock for two years after the required 1 month of no driving and that 2 year interlock requirement will not go away, even if you don't drive or reinstate your license.

The Court may also order the installation of an ignition interlock device for a specified time frame as a condition of probation. The Court does not have the power to reinstate driving privileges if you are under a valid license suspension or revocation. Only the DMV has that power.

The use of ignition interlocks is excessive in some situations. For example, the device only detects alcohol, but Colorado requires the installation of the device even when your
revocation is the result of driving under the influence of prescription medicine. Toyota has recently announced the introduction of vehicles that have what amounts to an ignition interlock built into the car so it will not start if you have any alcohol in your system. It is important to note that these devices do serve a purpose, but they are highly unreliable and provide a lot of false positive results.


Another alcohol detecting device starting to be used more and more is the SCRAM ankle monitor. The SCRAM device is an ankle monitor similar to a global position monitor used by some states and the federal government for persons under house arrest. Think of Martha Stewart serving her house arrest on her multimillion dollar farm. This monitor communicates through a modem connected to a monitoring station which alerts the authorities if alcohol is detected.

The SCRAM device uses the same technology and chemistry used in the Breathalyzer. This technology is called a fuel cell. It samples or tests the constant perspiration coming from your skin for traces of alcohol.

There are several problems with fuel cell devices. They are not specific to ethyl alcohol and can produce false positives. At least one study has shown these types of transdermal alcohol measuring devices do not meet the basic scientific evidence requirements to be admitted in court.