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New rule: Cameras to show who’s using Breathalyzer to start car

A driver demonstrates breath analyzer connected Intoxalock system car breathalyzer breath alcohol ignitiinterlock device manufactured by Consumer Safety Technology LLC

A driver demonstrates a breath analyzer connected to the Intoxalock system, a car breathalyzer and breath alcohol ignition interlock device, manufactured by Consumer Safety Technology, LLC, Des Moines, Iowa. The hand-held device tests a breath sample and displays the results on a readout screen. An accompanied camera takes the drivers photo for verification. | Provided Photo

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Updated: July 2, 2013 7:19AM

Blowing into a Breathlyzer won’t be enough.

Soon, motorists who still want to get behind the wheel after being charged with drunken driving will have their pictures automatically snapped whenever they start their cars.

The new rule, which goes into effect July 1, is intended to erase what officials said is a blind spot in state rules.

Residents whose licenses are suspended after drunken-driving arrests must have interlock devices that require them to blow into a Breathalyzer before starting their vehicles.

But that system has a flaw, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and safety advocates say: There’s no good way to ensure that the person blowing into the device is the person who will be driving.

That’s why White has approved a change in administrative rules requiring all interlock devices to include a camera to record who is starting the car.

“We want to make sure with this camera the right person is blowing into the tube,” White said, explaining the rule change. “This is a road-safety issue.”

Activists against drunken driving like the idea of pairing cameras with Breathalyzers as an extra precaution.

“There are so many people who try to defeat the devices,” said Susan McKeigue, state director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “Anything that helps keep them honest, we’re in favor of.”

The new requirement raises privacy questions and puts an extra financial burden on drivers — most of whom haven’t been convicted of any offenses, some attorneys contend.

“It’s just another creep into the invasion of privacy of drivers. You literally have Big Brother sitting in the car with you,” said Donald Ramsell, a Wheaton attorney who is an expert on Illinois’ DUI laws. The automatic cameras often capture images of the front-seat passenger as well. Some cameras — depending on where they’re placed — also show other passengers in the car, Ramsell said.

“It’s a subtle crossing of the line, but it’s a momentous one,” Ramsell argued.

About 11,000 people a year enter the interlock program in Illinois, which allows them to drive even after a DUI arrest. The bulk of those are first-time offenders, said Susan McKinney, who oversees the program in White’s office.

Most drivers are required to use the devices for six to 12 months, she said.

Last year, there were about 3,000 instances in which drivers failed to start their vehicles because the interlock device detected alcohol during breath tests.

One driver recorded 10 failures in a 60-day period, McKinney said.

With the current system, drivers in the program can argue they weren’t the ones attempting to start their vehicles while they had alcohol in their system.

Those claims are difficult to substantiate without a picture of who took the breath test.

“It provides more integrity to the program and it keeps our roads safer,” McKinney said of the camera-equipped device. “It eliminates an excuse.”

The breath test results and soon the pictures are stored in the interlock unit. The data is downloaded every 30 to 60 days to determine whether the driver on the program has failed any breath tests.

The pictures snapped by the interlock device will be used only to determine who blew into the Breathalyzer when alcohol is detected.

That’s a reasonable step to take, White said, particularly in a program that drivers voluntarily join if they want to keep driving after a DUI arrest.

“We’re giving these individuals a second bite at the apple. Now we want to make sure they don’t violate the agreement between them and our office,” White said.

Requiring the cameras to be installed with the Breathalyzer devices could raise monthly costs for drivers in the program. One company that supplies the devices to Illinois charges drivers nearly $85 a month for the Breathalyzer and camera. Without the camera, the device is $65 monthly.

“The lease will be a little bit more because of the technology,” said Sherry Sullivan, marketing manager for Consumer Safety Technology, an Iowa-based company. Its Intoxalock device is commonly used in Illinois.

She added: “It’s still less than the cost of a drink a day.”

The camera used with the unit is about two inches tall and half-inch thick. It’s mounted on the roof column on the passenger side, which gives the lens a wide-angle view of the front seat — a necessary security precaution “so the driver can’t have someone else blow,” she said.

Ramsell and others argue that the camera device is unnecessary because the interlock devices typically require a driver to take periodic breath tests while driving.

A failure results in the vehicle shutting down.

“Is your friend going to sit in the car and keep blowing into the tube so you can drive drunk?” Ramsell asked.

White and MADD officials say some drunken drivers ignore court orders or legal restrictions on their driving.

Some drivers ordered to attend panels in which drunken-driving victims discuss their ordeals have secretly sent substitutes, McKeigue said.

“These are irresponsible people,” she said.

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