Review: The BacTrack Mobile Smartphone Breathalyzer

Hey everyone. Just wanted to check in.

Like I said before… Life moves on. These days I don’t really think about my DUI that much. Life is somewhat back to normal. I just paid my second-to-last
insurance payment with an SR-22 and… ouch… but other than that, reading the emails that you guys send me… It’s pretty much like life was before I got my DUI.

But not quite.

The DUI process is rough, much harsher than it needs to be, and just plain exhausting.

I don’t want to go through it again. Ever.

While I have certainly cut back on my drinking, I didn’t quit. It’s a personal decision, some may need to, some don’t, I believe I’m in the latter half.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t worry about it.

If I go out to get drunk, have a night out, I take a l
yft or uber, but what about when you’re out with a friend who wants to get a beer and a burger, and that beer turns into two, or three over catching up and talking about old times.

How do you know when you’re ok to drive?

I spoke earlier about owning a breathalyzer, but I’ve gotten a number of messages asking me more about the specifics, so I thought I’d get into it a little bit more.

Deciding which Breathalyzer to get

After getting a DUI the last thing I wanted to do was spend more money. But I knew that if I was going to continue drinking at all… that I needed to have more information. It’s easy to think that you’re fine after a few drinks,
but study after study shows that intoxicated people have no idea how intoxicated they are. I needed to know.

The #1 thing I was looking for in a breathalyzer was accuracy - being off by one or two points can make a big difference, I had to know precisely how drunk I was. Second, I was looking for something discreet - I didn’t want to have to carry some big bulky thing around with me.

What helped inform my decision
was this review - where many breathalyzers were compared to police equipment - the ultimate test you’ll have to face. The main takeaways were that the cheaper, oxide sensors were not worth it because the results were generally all over the map. No thanks. They recommended a BacTrack breathalyzer that was professional, accurate and straightforward.

That wasn’t the one I went for.

When discussing the other ones, they mentioned how the
BacTrack Mobile version was almost just as accurate, but smaller. They frowned on it pairing to a smartphone, and the “gamification” of drinking - but I took a different approach to it.

Information, not games

Yes, the
BacTrack mobile does have options to connect to social media - but I haven’t, and will never, connect them - not even to the @surviveadui twitter. There’s no need for that, and it’s not something I want to encourage. However, it does keep a running log of your readings, with timestamps, so that you can track how your body processes alcohol and get an idea of how many drinks does it get to make you legally drunk, not just feeling drunk.

bactrack

With this information, you can start to truly understand how much you can drink, and how quickly you can get sober.
This is information that you have needed since you first started drinking. Any child I have is going to get a breathalyzer for their 21st birthday so they can start understanding how alcohol affects them, and how to drink responsibly. It’s utterly ridiculous that we put such weight and shame on people for violating this sort of thing, when almost nobody has this sort of information. The person who has made you feel bad about your DUI has almost certainly driven over the limit and not even known it. Most people who are driving at .09 and .10 have no clue they’re over the limit. Before I started using the BacTrack, I thought I was fine when I wasn’t, and I had no idea how long it could take to sober up from a few drinks, or that sometimes I was waking up and starting the next day still drunk.

Without the information, you’re just guessing, and guessing doesn’t work.

Operations

The BacTrack mobile smartphone breathalyzer is easy to work, easy to carry, and easy to hide. It does have a bright blue LED, but that’s easily covered with your fingers. I found myself easily using it while in a bathroom, walking down the street, or elsewhere. Nobody picked up on it.

To use you simply turn it on, pair it with your phone over bluetooth, and launch the app. The app requires you to guess your BAC, which many have dismissed as making it like a game, but again, I see that as an important part - you need to see how accurate you are as to how you feel to start getting a base. You’ll find that you’re often not fine when you believe you are, which is one of the best things that you can learn from a breathalyzer.

There’s the option for to use a detachable, washable mouthpiece with the unit. I opted not to, I blew directly into the machine. I don’t really plan on sharing it, and I don’t need to put anything in my mouth to blow.

The most difficult part about using the breathalyzer is getting used to the routine. You can’t just suck down a whiskey sour and then blow on it expecting instant results. You have to wait 15 - 20 minutes after your last drink, wash your mouth out with water, and not burp, hiccup, or vomit during this time. Residual alcohol in your mouth will give you a higher rating (better higher than lower). You have to also understand that all the alcohol has not been absorbed into your system after that 15 - 20 minutes. The boilermaker in your stomach is still creeping into your bloodstream for a good hour to hour-and-a-half after you drink it. Important to remember that so that you don’t take off too quickly after a drink, and good to know so that you can monitor how quickly the alcohol gets into your system.

Upkeep

The BacTrack comes with a carrying pouch, but I never used it. I just kept it in my jacket or glovebox and never had any sort of problem with it. Nothing got into it, or set it off weird. The charges last a good time, and charge via USB, so you can charge it in your car if you really need to.

The only thing that’s difficult is eventually the fuel cell needs to be recalibrated and sadly that’s not something you can do yourself. You have to send it back to the company and give them $25. You’re supposed to do this annually, but you can push it a little bit I found. However, it’s not a bad idea to line up recalibration with your #SoberSeptember.

Overall

Given the price, size, and accuracy, I have found the
BacTrack mobile smartphone breathalyzer to be an incredibly useful device. It’s armed me with the knowledge I need to understand how alcohol affects me, and when I am or am not ok to operate a vehicle. Had I gotten this years before maybe I would not be in the situation that I am right now. That said, I’m hoping that it will help me not be in this sort of situation in the future. It’s easy to take with me, it’s easy to use. There’s no excuse not to be informed anymore.




Review: The Smart Start SSI-20/30 IID

There’s nothing fun about the Ignition Interlock Device experience. The shopping for it is incredibly difficult, and a sheer hassle. Once you figure out which one you “want”, you still have to deal with the hassle of it all - making sure that your regular appointments work with your schedule, avoiding all the nickel-and-dime charges they throw at you for a wide variety of things.

It’s a process that leaves you exhausted and drained of money. That’s what they want. They want you to want to avoid getting another DUI at all costs. I feel they go much too far, and that the lesson has been learned much before you’re dealing with these companies.

They work mostly in secret, no totals given, hidden fees, it’s an ordeal.

Once I talked to a handful of companies over the phone, I did the math the best I could with all the information they were willing to give me and settled on one that seemed to be the cheapest and had an installer near my house.

The feeling of going in to get the thing installed is awful. A deep pit in your stomach, you feel the punishment. It’s not as bad as it could be, the installers do this all the time. You’re just another customer to them. Heck, they’re happy that you did this.

The installer I went to was inside a car accessories store that mostly sold alarms, aftermarket stereos, and car modifications. I had always wondered how these places stayed in business. This is how.

The Smart Start SSI-20/30
SSI_2030_Interlock_device-1
I could have paid more for a rental of another, more advanced unit, but I felt sucked dry enough already by the process that I went for this one. It’s a very basic unit, and I just wanted to comply with the law. I didn’t need features.

The SSI-20/30 takes about an hour to install in your car. They disassemble part of your dashboard below your steering wheel to install a hidden computer unit inside of your vehicle (don’t worry, modern cars are made to be taken apart like this, installation does no damage). Then from there a large, heavy, coiled cable comes out and attaches to the head unit. I found the cable to be the pretty annoying, it would have to be draped over my leg (I kept my unit in the center cup holder) the whole thing. It never got in the way of driving, but, I could always feel it there.

When you turn on your car you turn your key and… nothing happens. The electrical systems turn on, but you car doesn’t turn over, no matter how much you turn the key. Instead you have to wait 30-40 seconds for the Smart Start to initialize, and become ready to test your breath. It’s annoying and you find yourself trying to minimize stops that you have to make because it’s frustrating to sit there and wait for it. If you get back to your car within 15 minutes, give or take, the unit stays on, so it’s just blow-and-go. Otherwise it shuts off and you have to wait every time.

Blowing into the unit takes some practice. It takes a
large volume of air to get going. Eventually I found that I could blow a more focused breath of air and not have to breath so much, but it took some getting used to. You breathe a big breath for 3 seconds, then start humming additionally for another 5 seconds while still blowing to get a clean reading. It’s a balancing act, for sure, but eventually you get used to it. Some other company’s units just take a 3 second breath, which in retrospect, might have been worth it, depending on how much it was. Early mornings, times when I was tired, or in a hurry often lead to botched tests. You don’t get any points against you for a breathing error, as long as you complete the test within the 5 minutes allotted for a rolling retest. If you have a breathing error and end up turning off the car in frustration, you don’t get a point for that, either.

Rolling retests come at 5 minutes into your trip, and then randomly within 20 minute intervals afterwards. You could have to blow to start, then at 5 minutes, and then 10 minutes later or 20 minutes later. You never know. I understand the reasoning for this, but it would’ve been nice and allowed me to plan some of my trips better. A couple of times it took longer than 20 minutes for a retest, which was kind of nice, but made me worry that something was wrong. You kind of can’t win.

Once you have the breathing pattern down, you can take a rolling retest while driving. You’re given five minutes to retest and the screen counts down the time. You’re supposed to have enough time to pull over and retest, but I never did. I doubt many people ever have. Such a hassle. The beep that comes from the unit is
loud. I never had a problem hearing it over my music or anything.

One of the biggest questions asked about the IID is whether passengers in your car will notice that you have it. They
absolutely will. There’s no hiding it. It’s a large clunky unit that doesn’t fit many places in the car (It would fit into a place for my phones without the mouthpiece, but putting the mouthpiece on while driving would’ve been too difficult. I would keep it there, out of sight when the car was stopped and assemble it back together while waiting for it to start back up. I always beat it.) The beeps are loud, and the breathing process is involved, and frequent. Any person in your car will be very aware of it. So, you either need to have understanding passengers or a good list of excuses as to why you can’t give somebody a ride. Those who knew what I was going through did find the unit amusing.

Some places will rent you a cover for the interlock, disguising it as a soda can or other drink to spare you the embarrassment of other drivers seeing you. This usually comes with an an additional warranty or some other weird way of charging you a good amount of money. You can’t buy them and they don’t tell you how much it would cost. I found that I didn’t need one. The breathing process is 8 seconds, and to my knowledge, I never got “caught in the act”. If I did, it’s by somebody who’s probably long forgotten it. Speeding up or slowing down, getting next to a car bigger or smaller than yours is an effective way to keep it hidden from your fellow drivers. I never felt that I needed a cover.

The interface of the 20/30 leaves a lot to be desired. A simple menu button allowing you to go through the information you need (remaining points, appointment date) is done through using codes that don’t always work. It was a source of frustration in the unit that the information was sometimes inaccessible. There’s no reason it needs to be that hard to access. There’s no settings to change on the unit (maybe for the installer, not for clients) so the unit could easily be simpler.

Another drawback is that when you successfully blow, you’re never given your BAC reading. This, to me, is a major failing of the unit. Most people will not purchase additional breathalyzers (although, they should) so they will not know what their alcohol rating is - just pass, warn, or fail. How close were they on a warn? People should know, so they can learn. That said, I found the unit to be accurate in it’s readings (One time I waited for my BAC to come down enough to start the unit, and it gave me a rolling retest every 5 minutes trying to catch me and give me a violation. Fortunately my BAC was falling and I had my breathalyzer so I knew I would be ok.)

Getting the unit calibrated is easy, takes about 10 minutes. They try to make you come in every month for whatever reason, but you’re allowed to be calibrated for every two months. I went that option because, why not? It’s the most they can legally give you. They’ll try to get you for a late fee if you’re late to your appointment, so be sure to be on time, and don’t miss it, things get hairy from there (I never did).

Some people complain about the drain on their battery from the unit. I didn’t find any significant draw, even when leaving my car for two weeks for a trip. The computer unit hidden away is always “on”, so it’s drawing power to keep all the records of your readings and attempts active. There is probably a better way to do this, but I’m not a computer engineer. Some people have had their batteries die from this, I personally didn’t.

Removing the unit takes about fifteen minutes. I couldn’t believe how quickly I was out of there. It was quite a relief.

Overall

Overall the unit gets the job done. It’s never pleasant, it’s never particularly easy, but it satisfies the requirements before you. I wish it gave BAC readings, as keeping you in the dark is senseless regarding your alcohol education (although, that may be what they want). Looking around online I’ve seen all sorts of horror stories about malfunctioning units, mine worked fine. Maybe I was lucky.

This unit, with service cost less than other ones I was quoted. Despite my asking questions there still was an additional fee that I wasn’t aware of until it was time to pay ($7/mo warranty, so it wasn’t terrible, but still). They tried to hide the removal fee from me, but once I knew to ask about it, I was told. I never had to deal with a lockout, and found the unit was fair.

Rating: It’s fine. It gets the job done, and that's about it.

​Is the Ignition Interlock effective?

When you’re driving down the road at 45 miles per hour and you hear the beep go off for your rolling retest you automatically grab the device and blow and hum just to make the thing shut up (it is very loud).

As you do this for months on end, you have to wonder - is this safe? And more importantly: is this really working?

Technically, you’re supposed to pull over to the side of the road to use the IID, but I can’t imagine anybody takes that much time to do it.

But is it effective?

In my own experiences, it did stop me from driving with alcohol in my system - if I knew I was going to end up having a few drinks, I’d grab a
lyft and leave my car behind, because I didn’t want to have my car stuck somewhere where I couldn’t operate it.

But does it teach you anything?

The argument is that the Ignition Interlock teaches you to not drink and drive but not allowing it. I mostly learned to resent the damn thing going off and having to take a huge breath to blow into it (I think I did increase my lung capacity, though).

If you think that it doesn’t work, well,
the California DMV, who forces the thing on you, released a study that agrees with you…

The results of this outcome study clearly show that IIDs are not effective in reducing DUI convictions or incidents for first DUI offenders, even those with high BACs at arrest. While their high blood alcohol levels suggest that they are an alcohol-dependent population, ignition interlock does not appear to be the answer to reducing their drinking and driving risk. This conclusion finds support in a study that interviewed drivers, and found that first offenders were more hostile to interlocks and regarded them as less useful, compared to repeat offenders (Baker, 1988). Because there is no evidence that interlocks are an effective traffic safety measure for first DUI offenders, the use of the devices EFFECTIVENESS OF IGNITION INTERLOCK IN CA 19 should not be emphasized, even for those first offenders with high BACs at the time of arrest, as is currently done in California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 23575 (a)(1).

It's frustrating, for sure, but what can you do?

Just get through it, and move on.

Shopping for the Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

When you get that big scary letter of the Order of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) it will give you a list of approved, certified installers - I advise you to look each and every single one of them up. Getting the interlock is a difficult, complicated, and confusing process - and that’s all be design. The interlock companies want it to be difficult as can be, withholding information, giving you the run around, and doing everything they can to squeeze every last dime out of you.

What You Can Look Up Online

Most interlock companies websites are lacking a lot of information, instead asking you to put in all of your contact information - including some sensitive private information - in hopes of getting you on the phone with a salesperson. While the salesperson has some use (they can actually check with the DMV to make sure you’re in an eligible period, and theoretically answer questions) they slow down the process and make the task at hand very confusing.

But, some are nice to put
some information online. You’ll never get a straightforward price from the website or the salesperson, but you can try to get as close as possible. The websites I found were usually pretty good at disclosing the location of service centers for interlocks - each company deals with a handful of mechanics, car accessory dealers, etc. (you ever wonder how those tire stores or car stereo places stay in business, here it is) and that’s it. If you find an interlock company you like, but they’re not convenient for you, don’t go with them. You will have to visit the servicer multiple times over the installation (minimum 5), and it’s best to not have to travel all the way across town for this.

All of these places will charge you an extra fee if you’re late or miss your appointment. It’s very important to have an easy place to get to. If you miss your appointment you may end up locked out of your car and forced to tow it to the servicer. Closer is better.

What to Ask on the Phone

After you’ve eliminated some places you’ll have to end up talking on the phone with a number of salespeople. Do not let this part of the process put you off. I hate talking on the phone, but people’s unwillingness to discuss the difficult part of their lives plays into these people’s hands. Don’t let them take advantage of this.

Every interlock place claims to be the cheapest around - but it’s all subjective. Many places will say the first month is free with installation, or offer a free installation, or some other way to cloud what the device will actually cost.
Take lots of notes. The worst offenders are the ones who offered “No hidden fees”. I felt good about them, until talking with another provider they mentioned a removal fee. No hidden fees place did not mention this. I called them back and asked about it, and the removal free was massive. I asked them about it, and they claimed that the fee wasn’t hidden because they would mention it when asked. When talking with a lot of these salespeople I’d be asking myself, “wait, I’m the criminal here?”.

So, after a lot of calling I found myself with what I believe to be the best possible outcome for myself. Again, I don’t know the others, but in asking around, I believe I found myself the most reasonable - close, and relatively cheap to some of them. The back of the envelope math I did based on quotes had all them coming relatively close to each other… Around $450 total for 5 months, but I feel this space is shifting all of the time. Best to call around for yourself, but feel a little bit easy that getting the worst deal won’t mean a difference of hundreds of dollars. Still, this process is bleeding you dry, let’s save every dime we can.

I’ve compiled a list of the various fees I have found in my shopping and subsequent bills for the interlock device. As more people enter the business, as regulations change, I’m sure there will be more.
When in doubt ask questions. Ask enough questions to be a pain in the salespersons side, until they give you the answers you deserve. They are doing their best to confuse and mislead you - if you are unsatisfied or confused by their answers let them know. At the end of the day, they’re fighting for a somewhat limited amount of customers. They need you. You can still go somewhere else.

Known Possible Fees:

  • Installation Fee - A lot of places will use this as the big smoke and mirrors to what the interlock will end up costing you. A lot of places will claim that it’s free, only to give you a rebate on either your first or last month (double check and hold them to it if that’s the case) or have a reduced fee if you pay certain months in advance. This is so that it’s super hard to compare prices. Usually if the installation is free or reduced cost your monthly cost is going to be higher (not always the case, though).
  • Late/Missed Appointment Fee - Most people find out about this after they’ve made their appointments, the rep just adds a little “oh by the way, don’t be late!”. It’s always a little twist in your side - as you’re never allowed to charge them a fee when they miss the appointment. An unscrupulous (read:most) places can even charge you for being late even if you get there late and they’re still working on the person in front of you. So they had no downtime, but they still get to stick you for the money. Get there early every time. Don’t give them the pleasure.
  • Monthly Fee - Every month that you have the IID you have to pay for it. It’s a crappy rental, and when you see the fees that you’re paying for it, you’ll wish you’d gotten into the IID business. This, however, is a consistent fee that is the most straightforward of what you’ll end up paying. There’s not much that will change about this, unless you get a free first or last month.
  • Upgraded Unit Fee - Not all interlock devices are the same - they all require different blow patterns - some short, some long, some complicated. Some states like Oregon require devices come equipped with a camera that takes a picture of the person blowing the device every time, in order to prevent a passenger from blowing the device for an intoxicated driver. In some instances a more restrictive device - like one with a camera - has less of a cost than a more simpler device (some states there is no difference, some states it costs more). Explore all your options and decide how much restriction you can tolerate if these options are available to you.
  • Keyless Start Unit Fee - If you have a push to start or remote start car, be prepared to pay more - both monthly and in installation and removal fees. The upside? Some places are able to provide you with a remote interlock that you carry with you. So you can blow and start your car remotely, just as you did before. I imagine the remote part is all sorts of handy, but, alas, I’m still in the key-ignition days.
  • Disguised Unit - Some places try to “help you out” by offering a slipcover for your interlock unit that allows it to supposedly look like a can of soda. In practice this is a method to capitalize off of your embarassment and further profit off of you. Most of the ads for this covers make it seem as the unit will look like a 12 oz can of soda, while in practice they und up looking roughly the size of a 7-Eleven Big Gulp 32 oz jug. Some places will outright sell it to you (think of all the times you can reuse it!) and some will rent it to you for additional monthly charges, and others will give it to you free if you purchase an additional insurance policy. I say don’t bother. Even the biggest of IIDs is not very visible while driving, you will not be using it that often in view of other people, and it will not disguise the fact that you have an IID from a passenger. But, if you want it, be sure you know the total cost of it - either by purchase, rental, or attached to something else.
  • Download/Service Fee - You have to visit the place that installs your interlock device every 60 days to calibrate it and download the record of violations from the device. Some places will charge you $10-$15 a visit for this, others include it in their monthly fees. A lot of places will not tell you about this fee until you see it on your bill. Ask about it. Also make sure that their system will allow you to visit every 60 days, as some places only charge on a monthly basis - meaning you will have to dedicate more time to visiting your servicer, more possible late/missed appointment fees, more possible lockouts, more possible service fees. I know I wanted to visit this place as least as possible.
  • Lockout Fee - Every month (or two months if bi-monthly) your IID has a lockout date. Theory goes that the machine needs to be calibrated in order to be an accurate detection of alcohol in your breath. The court dictates that the machine be calibrated at least every 60 days, but the companies take it one step further and make it so that your car can completely lock you out if you miss your appointment - so you now have to tow your car to the service center and then pay them an additional fee to get your system back working again. Don’t miss your appointments. There can be some additional blowback from the court if you do, as it’s a violation of your restricted license… just don’t do it. Don’t get locked out. There’s no good reason to.
  • Lockout Code Fee - Some interlock devices have a keycode that you can punch in to give you an engine start, or period of engine starts, if, for some reason, you miss your appointment and get locked out, so that you can get to the service center and get your IID recalibrated. Of course, they’ll charge you a fee for this code. Don’t miss your appointments.
  • Violation Fee - If you have enough violations - either for too much alcohol in your system when trying to start your car (again, you should have your own breathalyzer so that you can check before you blow into your IID), or for trying to tamper with the device the court will take away your restricted license privileges, but your IID company can also fine you. It just keeps coming.
  • Warranty - One I didn’t see coming. Some installers will charge you a monthly fee that theoretically protects you in case the device breaks (in a manner that doesn’t look like you were trying to bypass the device). Would it in practice? I don’t know. I’m not going to find out. But when comparing prices see if they’re going to tack it on.
  • Insurance - The same as a warranty, but can also be purchased separately. In my experience the machine shouldn’t be beaten up too much, once you find a good place for it that’s out of the way when driving, it shouldn’t take too much wear and tear, but accidents do occur, I suppose. If you get it, know what it covers, ask if there’s a deductable (that’s where they get you), and know the ins and outs. Also double check if your current car insurance policy covers it (you have the SR-22, they know you have a DUI).
  • Damage - This should be conditional with you actually damaging the damn thing, but find out what their policy is before it happens. The devices are can be damaged by heat, animals, water spills, auto accidents, know what will happen to you in case this happens.
  • Theft/Loss - Most of the units are removable. Supposedly they can be damaged by extreme heat and extreme cold, so if you are in those environments, you are encouraged to take the unit with you to protect it. Does anybody actually do this? I have no idea. However, if you take it with you and somehow lose it (I don’t know how this would happen since you can’t drive without it) or your car is stolen (and the ignition interlock device is actually a fairly decent theft deterrent system), you should know what the consequences are.
  • Replacement Forms - If you misplace the paperwork, or make a mistake filling it out, they will charge you for replacements - even if you mess up when first filling it out. Stupid, I know, unfair, I know, nothing you can do. Fill it out carefully.
  • Tax - The IID is not a taxable item. However, most people do not know this and a shady vendor could be charging you tax and pocketing it. Do not allow this to happen. Alert the authorities if this happens.
  • Credit/Debit Card Fee - The bane of my existence at my nearest lunch spots. Some places can charge you for using your credit card. Usually a dollar or two, but still, it’s important to know.
  • Personal Check Fee/Bounced Check Fee - I don’t recall any of the places I dealt with saying that they accepted personal checks, but I didn’t ask. I’ve only paid my taxes and my court fees with a check in the last number of years. I’m going to guess most likely you aren’t either - but if for some reason checks are your preferred way to pay, make sure they take them, and make sure you know if and what they charge.
  • Cash Fee - Not sure I’ve seen this for anything, but, if you like to pay cash, know the drill. Do they need exact change?
  • Removal Fee - This is one of the fees they don’t want you to know about. A lot of people complete their IID then get that extra little kick in the pants for $75-$120 when they find out that there’s a cost to remove the IID. Again - a place that boasted “No Hidden Fees” hid this fee from me until I asked. They know you’ll pay this fee because at this point you’ll be sick of the dang thing. Supposedly you can do this yourself if you’re a gearhead and return the unit. I’m certainly not skilled enough, nor would I want to risk some sort of mixup and the court seeing this as a violation, or the service center erroneously claiming that I damaged it. Let them take it off, I’ll get something to eat.

Pricing and preparing for all of this is a difficult task. Especially with all the callbacks, run around, hiding of information, it’s exhausting to deal with.
Again, this is what they want. They want to drain you dry so that you settle and just say fine. They need you, you have your pick. Ask as many questions as possible, they are leaving something out.

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!)

The DMV Hearing

Once you have requested the hearing you’re in a weird legal gray zone. Most likely the police confiscated your physical driver’s license upon your arrest. If not, it doesn’t matter, it’s invalid anyhow. Upon your release from either jail or holding, the police should have given you your ticket for DUI and a pink form with the DMV’s logo on it called “Age 21 and older Administrative Per Se Suspension/Revocation Order and Temporary Driver License” - this is now your driver’s license. (Despite the title most people don’t pick up on that fact, I didn’t, but I was still shell shocked). You can drive with this as long as you have a photo ID - this is why you get a passport even if you don’t intend on traveling, it’s good to have a backup ID. If not you can get a state ID, which is handy to have since you will be using your alternate ID for everything, and passports are a hassle to carry around, and can be dangerous if stolen.

What’s important to note about this pink form is that the copy you’re given was made from the impressions of carbon paper.
The impressions on the front will fade quickly. It’s worthless if you get pulled over with it and a cop cannot read it. HOWEVER, it is completely legal to drive with a photocopy of this paper (as long as you have a photo ID). You are also allowed to go over the marks in pen. It seems weird that it’s legal, but, it is. You won’t be charged with tampering with the document as long as you do not make any changes whatsoever to it. Remember: they have the master document, if you get busted, they can easily find out. My lawyer provided me with both darkened copies and went over it, just in case.

This temporary license is only valid for 30 days from your arrest, however. Your DMV hearing will be more than 30 days from when you request it, so the DMV will issue you a temporary license. It clearly lays out that your suspension is stayed until your hearing date. Again, you must have a photo ID along with this piece of paper, but then you’re good to go. You can drive anywhere you want, for any reason. However, it’s important to know that you’re on probation until your trial date.
This is something that they do not tell you.

Between your arrest and your trial you are on a zero-tolerance for any detectable amount of alcohol in your blood. So, even if you had one beer an hour ago, have been drinking water, if their breathalyzer comes up with a .01 you can get in trouble. Mouthwash, onions, other things can trigger a .01 on a breathalyzer, so be careful. Again - my advice is to get a portable breathalyzer and keep it in your glovebox. If you do get caught with a detectable amount the police can’t give you an additional DUI - that’s a large misconception - but they can suspend your license for a year as a violation of this probation.

In some instances you may have to delay your hearing. This can be done for a number reasons, you’ll still be able to drive in the interim, and you’ll be sent a paper with your new date on there. Technically you do not have to keep this with you as you drive, but I decided to in case I got pulled over - the temporary license says that it’s only valid through the hearing, and it could be all too easy for a cop to think that my story about delaying the hearing was bullshit, so I wanted to have as much documentation as possible. Just put it in the glovebox and forget it. You don’t have to, but I can’t see a reason why you wouldn’t.

Additionally, if you have recently visited the DMV or did after your arrest, you may have a license arrive in the mail. Officially you’re supposed to surrender this license, but the process of how exactly to do that isn’t that clear even from the DMV. The bottom line is, if you get one, don’t get caught with it. Don’t carry it on you, don’t have it in your car. Throw it away, shred it, put it in your files. You will never be asked for any evidence that you surrendered it, but you can be facing some stiff penalties if you present it to a police officer at a traffic stop. Don’t worry about keeping it for when your suspension is up, you will have to visit the DMV and get a new one anyhow.

Your DMV hearing will be over the phone, usually in the mid-day. There’s a checkbox for it to be in person, but I don’t know how you get that, or why you’d want to. It’s important to know that DMV hearing is the most harsh part of this whole thing - there’s no sympathy, it’s as cut-and-dry as a trip to the DMV. You have to have all your documents in order, everything has to be filled out just right, you’ve been through it. This hearing asks two basic questions - 1.) Was the stop a legal stop? 2.) Was the operator intoxicated? That’s it. There’s no arguments, there’s no throwing yourself upon the mercy of the court, that’s all you get.

99% of the time you will be found in violation. Just be prepared for that.

The DMV hearing is going to trust your arresting officer pretty much all of the time, and neither you, nor your lawyer have the evidence against you to argue a point. You don’t have the calibration information, you don’t have the video of your arrest, and even if you did - it’s taking place over the phone. Even the most braggadocious lawyer will tell you that it’s nearly impossible to win this hearing.

As such you’re facing a 5 month suspension of your drivers license - but this can be adjusted. You absolutely must serve 30 days of what’s known as a hard suspension - no driving, for any reason, whatsoever. Tune up the bike, get a pair of comfy walking shoes, learn the route the bus takes, grab an uber, do anything but drive. If you get caught the penalties for driving on a suspended license for DUI are the toughest of all the driving on a suspended license penalties. They take this charge extremely seriously. Some of the people in my DUI classes drove without it. I looked up the penalties - Possible 1 year complete “hard” suspension, 3 years probation, $2000 fine, 10 days in County Jail, and 3 years of the IID. No thank you. No thank you at all. It gets worse if you get into an accident or get another DUI while driving on a suspended license. Just avoid it all together.

Once the 30 days are up you can apply for a restricted license - which will allow you to drive any vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock device (IID) for five months (so it extends the total suspension to six months, but you’re driving). They used to also put a restriction that only allowed you to drive to and from your place of work and/or school, but I didn’t receive any such restriction. I don’t think they’re giving it out as much, as their concerns are not where you go, but what’s in your blood when you’re driving. I wasn’t expecting to not get this restriction, so I asked my lawyer a lot of questions about the work/school restrictions. First of all, if you do get them, it
does allow you to go to your DUI program - previously I had read that this wasn’t allowed and that cops would use the classes as a trap, but this isn’t true. Second, the lawyer basically spelled it out to me as this: a cop doesn’t know where you’re coming from, where you’re going, the hours you work, etc. As long as you have a reasonable explanation (work function, meeting, etc.) and don’t have a pile of groceries in the front seat, you should be able to skirt the restriction somewhat. It’s really hard to prove where you were intending to go and for what purpose. This is, of course, a dicey strategy, but it doesn’t seem like your destination is a high priority for the police.

Having gone through the process - this, in my opinion, is the most difficult part. The 30 days without a car and driving with the IID are hassles, and kind of just rubbing your nose in it. It does work as a preventative measure for a repeat offense. I’ve had enough of this, it’s not worth it.

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