Interlock Technology Report

Next month the American Beverage Institute will release a new report on developments on ignition interlock technology. The Washington, D.C.-based organization representing the on-premise industry undertook an investigation of what technologies are being researched, the science behind the new technology and what the different auto companies are working on with regard to installation of ignition interlock in vehicles. 

A requirement that all 50 states mandate ignition interlock for first-time drunk driving offenders with low blood alcohol content (BAC) is part of the federal Highway Bill introduced in June. The language of the bill includes penalties for states that do not comply. Currently, 11 states mandate ignition interlocks be placed in the cars of low-BAC first-time drunk driving offenders; similar legislation recently has been defeated in several states.

Ignition interlocks are breathalyzer devices that test the BAC of the driver and prevent the car from starting if the BAC exceeds a pre-set limit. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a strong advocate for ignition interlock and has a stated goal of making the devices standard equipment in all vehicles. The hospitality industry’s position, as stated by associations including ABI, Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. and others, is to support ignition interlock for high-BAC repeat offenders.

Several auto manufacturers, including Saab, Nissan and Toyota, already are developing new interlock technology that initially will be offered as an option on their vehicles. In 2007, Nissan Motors unveiled a concept car fit with odor sensors to “sniff” any alcohol in the cabin; soon after, Volvo contracted Alcohol Countermeasure Systems Corp. to customize interlocks for its vehicles.

Recently, Sue Ferguson of the federally funded universal interlock technology development project Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety ( — which also is funded by auto manufacturers — indicated that the ignition interlock systems will be set below the legal limit.
In a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial column opposing the installation of interlocks in all cars, author Patrick McIlheran cited Ferguson as taking the position that the devices will be set with a “safety margin,” meaning they’ll be set below the legal limit. He reports her saying, “We’re very keen not to let anyone over the limit drive.”
This is in opposition to MADD’s stated position that the devices would be set at the legal limit. However, few observers of this issue believe that to be possible due to the limitations of the technology and the potential for lawsuits if the technology allows someone to drive drunk. ABI Managing Director Sarah Longwell explained, “There is no practical way these things will be set at 0.08.”

Editor’s Note: For the on-premise operator, the proposal to mandate ignition interlocks in the vehicles of all first-time DWI offenders has serious implications for beverage sales, as even responsible consumers undoubtedly will change their habits out of fear of having the device installed in their vehicle. What’s more, such a mandate does little to address those most responsible for drunk driving accidents — the high-BAC repeat offender. It’s also a strong step toward universal ignition interlock, meaning these devices will be installed in all vehicles and set well below the legal limit.

Get involved! Voice your opinion on this element of the Highway Bill by reaching out to your representatives in the federal government today. Pick up the phone, write a letter. Visit for more information from ABI.


Suggested Articles

Governor Gavin Newsom issued the order earlier this afternoon.

General Counsel, Jessica Shraybman, shares her advice for clients looking to negotiate terms with their landlords.

More than ever, we need Congress to help our independent restaurants which are proven to be a foundation of the U.S. economy.