Anne Leonard, executive director Arrive Alive demonstrates an ignition interlock system -- many convicted impaired drivers are required to install such devices into their cars on December 4, 2014. (Michael Peake/QMI Agency)

Anne Leonard, executive director Arrive Alive demonstrates an ignition interlock system — many convicted impaired drivers are required to install such devices into their cars on Thursday December 4, 2014. Michael Peake/Toronto Sun

In order to start the car, you need to blow clean.

It’s called an ignition interlock and it’s connected to the vehicle, detects blood-alcohol concentration over a preset limit of 0.02 (20 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood) and the car won’t start if you blow over.

During the ride, the device also requires the driver to provide random samples while the the engine is running and if the limit is surpassed, the device will record the event and activate flashing lights, horn honking until the ignition is turned off.

The interlock is a provincially-mandated alcohol screening device installed in vehicles for those convicted of impaired driving under the Criminal Code of Canada or suspended for registering a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 to 0.08 three or more times in a five-year period.

And the number of devices installed in Canada has more than doubled from 11,300 in 2007 to 26,800 in 2012. A similar U.S. study showed that the number of installations went up by 30,000 ever year over an eight-year period to 305,000 last year.

“More provinces, more jurisdictions have alcohol interlock programs and many of the jurisdictions have expanded their interlock criteria,” Robert Solomon, the national director of legal policy for Mothers Against Drinking and Driving (MADD) Canada, attributes to the increase.

“British Columbia in particular has begun to tie the interlock into not only federal convictions, but of licence provisions under provincial law. The ideal program is easy to get on for all offenders and you only get off the program if the evidence from the interlock data roll indicates that you are making progress with your drinking problem. No failed attempts in three months.”

According to the provincial Ministry of Transportation, there are about 13,000 drinking and driving convictions recorded annually in Ontario. Approximately 80% of convicted drunk drivers are first-time offenders.

The province introduced the Ignition Interlock Program in 2001, and to date, Alcohol Countermeasure Systems and LifeSafer are the only two manufacturers of these interlocking devices approved by the Ministry of Transportation for use.

“It’s not just about the device, it’s about road safety,” said Peter Alessi, president of ACS, who noted thousands of first offenders use his product at $100 per month for nine months while repeat offenders have to stay on longer as prescribed by the MTO.

“We hope people can change their behaviours towards drinking and driving and I think that’s the goal.”

Toronto criminal lawyer Calvin Barry, who has dealt with many impaired driving cases, sees interlock devices as a “useful tool” to balance the protection of the public with the accused having a shortened license suspension from one year to three months by entering the program.

“It works as a deterrent and it offers a pressure-release valve, so to speak, in the criminal justice system dealing with impaired over 80s and refusals,” he said.

“It balances (policies of) MADD with the accused’s right to employment and mobility.”

However, Barry notes many drivers convicted of drunk driving don’t install them in their cars because of social stigma.

“They find them humiliating,” he said. “You’ve gotten into such a pickle you need to have this machine and if you don’t blow blood-alcohol concentration of zero, your vehicle won’t work, so a lot of people just ride out the extra time period. Then the word’s on the street that you’re a drunk or you have a serious drinking issue, where it’s often a one-off.”

Const. Clint Stibbe of Toronto Police traffic services said while “it’s not extremely common,” he has personally pulled over people seemingly under the influence of drugs or alcohol and who have an interlock device installed.

Since the beginning of the year until Nov. 30, there have been 1,241 impairment arrests made during the RIDE program.

“We all want to get home safely,” he said. “Every time you choose to operate a motor vehicle impaired is a conscious choice. It’s not a mistake – suggesting it’s a mistake suggests it takes the onus away from the individual.”

Arrive Alive executive director Anne Leonard said she prefers the interlock device over the handheld breathalyzers out there, which vary in sophistication and accuracy. But the one reading that matters most is the one taken by the RIDE police officer by the side of the road.

“There’s lots of technology out there — I have one that hooks up to my iPhone,” she said. “But none of them stop you from starting your car. Don’t play scientist with your blood-alcohol level.”

The Toronto Sun