Soft Suspension And The Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

Once you’ve gotten past the 30 days the DMV allows you to apply for a restricted driver’s license provided you’ve met a few criteria: you cannot have any other suspensions or revocations on your license, you have enrolled in the DUI classes, you have gotten your SR-22, and that you pay a reinstatement fee (usually about $45). The fees you can just take care of while you’re at the DMV applying for the license, the SR-22 is a little bit trickier.

When you get an SR-22, the insurance company sends the documentation to the DMV, so you have
no idea when it actually gets there. When I got mine I was given a span of ten days when it could be there. I complained because I was about to leave town for a week and wanted to let that week serve as part of getting the restricted license period over with. I was told that if things came down to it the SR-22 could be faxed, yes, faxed over “within a period of four hours if I get there and the DMV doesn’t have it”. What a complete pain in the ass. Fortunately it was there when I got my restricted license a few days later. Otherwise, I don’t know what I would have done.

The Big Scary Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

The biggest part of the restricted license is that it generally requires that you either only drive to school/work/your DUI program, or that you can only drive with an interlock on your car, or both. I was only required to get the interlock, but some in my program had both restrictions put on them. One lucky person only had the school/work/program restriction (they’d gotten theirs in Orange County), which is much more workable (especially since cops don’t know where you’re going, and many jobs can require to be anywhere at a given moment).

The IID was my biggest fear regarding this whole thing. How can I drive around with this thing attached to my car? How can I drive somebody around without looking like a complete wino, how can I date with this thing? Won’t people look down on me as they pass me as I’m blowing on this thing while driving?

Like most things with this process, what you imagine it to be is much worse than what it actually is. Such is the power of the imagination.

The Restricted License Snafu

So, to get the restricted license you have to install the interlock on your car. To install the interlock you have to be eligible - and every place will be calling the DMV and checking to make sure (you really don’t want to accidentally install one when you don’t need it!). So by definition the DMV requires you to drive illegally twice- once to the installation and once from the installation to the DMV to get the license. I can imagine if you show a cop that you have an IID appointment they’d be tolerant, but as you well know, it’s all up to how the cops is feeling that day. If the cop wants to be a dick, well, they can. Drive safe.

Once you’re eligible for the interlock you’ll receive another menacing all-caps letter from the DMV telling you that you’re eligible, and will include an order for the ignition interlock, and a form to fill out if you’re exempt from the interlock. Could you possibly be exempt from the interlock? Like most things you’ve gotten your hopes up for during this process, probably not. An exemption only comes if you do not own a vehicle, do not have access to a vehicle at your residence, and you do not have access to the vehicle you were arrested in - and are able to explain why you do not have that access (the car doesn’t run is
not a valid reason, even if you have a PNO on file). Even if you are exempt, you will still be unable to legally drive a vehicle that does not have an interlock device on it as part of your restricted license. So even if you did qualify for the exemption it’s not a get-out-of-jail free card.

What if I have to drive as part of my job?

This is part that gets a little bit weird. If you have to drive a car as part of your job, you can drive a car owned by your employer as long as they have a notice that you have a restricted license (I imagine that this notice contains the reason you’re on a restricted license, so, if you were hoping to hide it from your employer, your luck’s run out). If you drive your own vehicle, you have to get the IID, even if it’s a big rig. Ownership has it’s downside.

Prepping for it

I know you’re excited to drive again at this point. I certainly was. However, I took my car out on a little bit of a test run. I needed an oil change before I got the suspension, and certainly things weren’t getting any better so I ran out and got one. The guy mentioned that my brakes were getting low, which is what the dealership told me when I last stopped in there a few months ago, so I knew things were getting bad. He quoted me an exceptionally reasonable price, so I went ahead and got it done right then.

I’m glad I did. If things got worse and I needed to get a brake job while I had the interlock on my car, I would have needed to give my mechanic information so that they could contact the manufacturer and disable the interlock on their own without disturbing it (testing it to drive and such). While it is a complete violation of your suspension, I would suggest getting anything that you need taken care of on the car taken care of before you get the interlock on it. If you’re worried, have a friend drive it for you. Be sure to check your mirrors and obey all laws. A cop got like three cars behind me and it was alarming to say the least (a big downside to looking up what will happen if you get caught).

Shopping for the IID

This ended up being a lot more complicated than I originally thought, so I made it it’s on separate entry. You’re definitely going to want to look into it and see the ins-and-outs and tricks that they’ll put you through.

Installation.

The installation process isn’t that bad. You might have to wait around for the person before you to finish up, but you should have already basically set aside your day to the process since you have to get the IID installed and then go to the DMV. Be patient. It takes about an hour to install, and unfortunately, it’s not the kind of hour where you can walk over and get something to eat while you’re waiting. During the wait you’ll have your charges finally clearly explained to you, and you’ll have to watch a video about the use of the IID. You’re legally required to watch this video. You’ll also have to fill out a number of forms - be sure to fill them out clearly and accurately - they’ll charge you if you make a mistake and have to fill out a new form.

A lot of the information about the installation of the IID is really out there. I’m sure as you’ve googled around that you’ve heard some stories. The biggest misconception is that they install the device by drilling a hole in your dashboard.
This is completely false. It doesn’t even hold up if you think about it long enough. The installation of the IID should not damage your car in any way. If it is damaged you’re dealing with a disreputable dealer and they should be reported and a grievance filed. It is not acceptable. Some people ask about the wiring, but go ahead and take a flashlight and look underneath your dash - most of the wires are already held in place with electrical tape in a maelstrom of chaos - nobody will be able to tell.

The installation of your ignition interlock will get complicated if you have a push-to-start car or a keyless start system. Your installation will cost more, take longer, and be a little bit more of a headache. However some providers and states allow for remote interlocks for these systems, which may allow you to retain the level of convenience that you had before.

Once you have the unit hooked up, the installer will give you a certificate stating which unit you had, where it was done, etc. You take this
straight to the DMV where you will fill out some paperwork, wait around, hope your SR-22 is there, and get your restricted license.

IID Concerns

The first thing people worry about is the embarrassment of having the ignition interlock device (IID) attached to your car. It’s not the most fun thing, but it’s completely manageable. Once you figure out the shape and size of your device you’ll be able to find “hiding” places for it to rest while parked (you can always take the head of the unit and put it in your trunk if you don’t have a slot for it, or tuck it between the seat and console) and you can just duck your head out of sight when blowing and starting it up, as if you were getting something out of the glovebox, or you dropped something. I’ve done this as people have waved goodbye to me, nobody’s ever been the wiser.

For retests - I’ve not worried about people looking in my car as I’ve done it. You just drift back or forth, and blow - most people aren’t looking inside people’s cars all that often - they’re mostly looking forward or at their phones. If you’re truly concerned about being seen you can just drift back to where a car isn’t directly next to you and blow, or take a side street, or pull over and duck down. It’s not the most visible thing and you’ll only have it up 10-15 seconds, which is not that long. Additionally, most of the cars you see on the road are people who you’ll either never see again, or couldn’t recognize you if their life depended on it later. Most of the humiliation you face is in your own head.

People also worry about the IID impeding the functionality of their car. As long as you don’t drink, use mouthwash, etc. you should be fine. If a slasher from a horror movie is coming toward you it will take some time for the unit to start up and for you to blow into it to get it to pass, but, as those sorts of movies go, you should escape just in the nick of time. Additionally, the IID has served as a theft deterrent in several cases - criminals try to take the car or hotwire it, and are unable to figure out the breath pattern to get the car to start.


Another concern is that the device will drain your battery. The unit I have turns itself off after a certain amount of time when the car’s off, if I go into a place for a few hours the unit takes quite a while (about 40 seconds) to turn itself, initialize, and be ready to go, suggesting that it was completely turned off instead of going into a sleep mode. If you are truly concerned about this, the unit will detach from it’s cable much in the same way that a phone cord does (if you can remember wired phones or ethernet cables). When detached there’s no way for it to draw power (think light switch on but no light bulb). I have not seen any measurable drain on my battery, and, additionally, I left my car inactive with the unit attached for over a week and was still able to start it back up when I returned from my trip. In case you were wondering - should your battery die in most cases you will be able to jump your car as normal in most cases (some states require a car to go into lockout mode if without power for a prescribed amount of time - in that case your dead battery will cause you a lot of problems. Watch your gauge).

What is nice is that when you shut your car off you’ll have around 2 minutes where you’re free to start your car back up without having to blow into the device (on some units). Great for adjusting your parking, picking up a to-go food order, running into the house for something, etc. As you go on, you’ll get better at dashing inside for your phone, waiting till you’re out of the car, window down, turning the key and rushing. It’s kind of a fun test, and knowing that you made the deadline feels good. If you don’t make it, blowing isn’t that bad.

How It Works

Depending on the unit you get there’s a lot of different ways it can work - some have you blow and hum the entire time (usually 10 seconds) you have to blow, some just require a 3 second blow. I wish I had that unit, but do not think the extra cost it would have required is justified. Mine you have to blow for a certain amount of time and then blow and hum for the rest of it. The vast majority of interlocks will require a combination of blowing and humming.

To start your car you’ll have to turn the car on, then wait for the system to start. When it asks you to blow take a
big gulp of air and blow and blow and blow. It takes a large amount of air to blow into these things - that’s because they don’t want any chance of getting a false negative. They want any trace of alcohol in your lungs to get into the machine.

You will mess it up many times. It takes getting used to. No other breathalyzer system - your portable, the cops’ portables, the station’s use this system. It takes a while to get used to, but before long, you’ll have an increased lung capacity and able to blow whenever it asks no problem.

The most common error you will see is “Blow Harder”, usually meaning that you ran out of breath during the test. Don’t worry about this error - it doesn’t count as a violation.
However, it’s kind of a misnomer. I’ve found that the intensity of your breath does not matter. So I don’t blow harder, I blow longer. It wants a sustained breath. So don’t blow as hard, save the air, pace it out. Think back to that one year you took band in middle school - blow like that. Less air, doing more work. Smaller hole with your lips. Air comes out faster, but less is wasted, so you’re able to blow longer and sustain a note. The IID works the same way.

Try it yourself. Take a big breath of air then open your mouth and push it all out. It should be gone in a flash. Now take a breath the same size and open your lips only a little bit and push it out. It will take much, much longer. This is what you need to operate your IID. You won’t even have to blow that hard.

As you blow, at some point you will have to hum - at first it seems like a rub your belly and pat your head sort of situation, but after a bit, you’ll have it down completely. It gets easier every time you do it. I hardly even have to think about it anymore.

After you’ve blown enough and hummed enough, the machine will give you it’s reading - if it’s Pass you can simply start up your car and go on your way. If you have a little bit of alcohol in your system, somewhere between .02 and .029 (For CA, in other places it’s .015) it will give you a Warn - allowing you start the car, but saying you’ve cut it close. What’s important about a warn is that if you have recently drank alcohol your BAC can rise as your operate your vehicle and you can fail your retests. The worst case scenario is having too much alcohol in your system and getting a Fail. If you have .03 or more you will be unable to start your car for a little bit - if you try and fail again you’ll be locked out for a longer period of time.

A common reason for getting a fail, besides drinking alcohol, is mouthwash. If you’ve recently used mouthwash rinse your mouth out a few times with water and try again. You should be able to get a pass.

Rolling Retests

After you’ve blown and started your car, you will be subject to random retests. Your IID unit will beep and you’ll have six minutes to blow again into the ignition interlock device using the same hum pattern as you use to start it up. It will give you the same set of results - Pass, Warn, Fail and you’ll go on accordingly. If you do not blow into the unit you will be charged with a violation (The question comes up, what happens if you reach your destination and the IID goes off. If that happens
do not turn off the engine - that’ll cause a violation - blow, get a pass, and then turn off the unit. Additionally, I’ve had it go off right after I turned the car, I blew into it, it gave me my pass, and I went on my way without getting a violation. So there’s some leeway in all of this.)

The first retest generally comes within 5-10 minutes as sort of a general “double check” that you were ok to start the car, and to make sure that somebody didn’t blow to start the car for an intoxicated person. Afterwards it will go off every 20-30 minutes.

A lot of people worry that if they get a fail while driving that it will cause the car to stop.
This is absolutely not true. That would be a greater public safety threat than driving drunk. Instead you will be charged with a violation. Some units will allow you to continue driving, others are connected to your horn and cause your horn to start honking and your lights to start flashing, forcing you to pull over as soon as possible. There’s only two ways that you can record a violation like this - by drinking alcohol while driving (don’t mouthwash and drive) or the alcohol that you drank earlier gets processed into your system where you’re above the warn limit. Generally if you’re hitting that you should have gotten a warn when you started your car.

Violations

You can get violations a few ways - by having too much alcohol in your system, tampering with the unit, and refusing to take the rolling retest.

Obviously you should avoid these as much as possible - but, again, you do get
some leeway. They’re not going to for messing up by having too much mouthwash. Depending on a number of factors, you may have as many as 3 violations per month, or 3 violations allowed for the entire duration of your time with the device. The device is in the hands of the private companies that operate them, and it’s somewhat up to them what they report. Looking through all the information I was given and I was able to find on the web I was not able to find any concrete set of rules regarding how many violations will pull you out of the program and force you to serve out your days carless. Some places say 3, others seem to indicate that the DMV is more focused on tampering, bypassing, failing rolling tests, and just plain not getting the interlock rather than worrying if you got locked out twice.

My advice: Don’t chance it. There’s no need to make any more trouble for yourself.
Keep your portable breathalyzer with you or in the car and test yourself before the car tests you. You may have waited long enough after having those 2 beers with dinner, but you may not have. Don’t leave it up to chance. Keep as many extra violations as you can just in case you need them. I just checked mine - I have 5 left for this 2 month period. I’m going to do what I can to keep them, and just get less headaches overall.

Maintenance

Along with the overall hassle of having to blow in this thing ever so often, you have to show up to your installer and get the thing calibrated. Like all alcohol detecting devices, time and use wears them down so they have to get readjusted and set back to be accurate. The state requires that you do this at least every 60 days. Your installer, by default, will have you come back every 30 days. Just tell them at the beginning you want to do 60 days and you’ll be fine.

The biggest hassle of it is just showing up. Once you’re there, you just sit back, play on your phone, listen to whatever oldies station they have playing in the showroom. They take the head unit and put it in a box and blow air into it, and run a cable to your car and download all the records of your blowing into it. If you have too many violations or issues this is where you’ll have to deal with it. Most of the time it’s a smooth process.

If you don’t go your interlock will go into Lockout mode - meaning that you will not be able to start your car at all. Make your appointments (on time, too, as they can charge you, of course, for being late). However, your car doesn’t immediately shut down if you miss your appointment. You’re given a grace period, usually 2 days (check your state). This is just to be reasonable (plans change, etc) and also to deal with months having irregular amounts of days - so that you don’t have to pay for a full month just to get the 2 more days that you will need to finish up your suspension.

Removal

What you’ve been waiting for. Like most things, the time you have to deal with this goes by pretty quickly once you’ve gotten the hang of it. The only snafu with removal is that your installer can’t remove the IID without getting an order from the DMV.
Most of them will not tell you this in an attempt to squeeze another month out of you. Shitty, I know.

Your paperwork will have a number for the DMV office that deals with these affairs. Give it a call 7-10 days early (they won’t issue the removal orders too early), wait on hold (they actually have a system that calls you back when a person is available, which is great) get the order, and send that to your interlock company (go ahead and send it to your installer, too, let the whole world know).
On the big day, drive on in, be on time, and get ready to wait around a while. Like before, it can take an hour for these to get installed and removed. Pay another fee, then get in your car and turn the key without blowing on anything like God intended!! Rev the motor and peel out of the parking lot intent on never coming back. You’ve done your time. Drive directly to the DMV, wait in line, and get the restriction removed from your driver’s license. Like before, just cross the day off the calendar and dedicate it to this. However, this time it’s your independence day!

One little snafu…

There is one little thing. If, for some reason, your suspension is longer than the period you’re required to have your interlock (and I can’t think of a reason why this would be), once it’s off you will have a restriction that says you can only go to work and your alcohol classes. If this is the case, just remember: the cop doesn’t know where you’re going (that’s what a lawyer told me!)

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