Ignition Interlock Devices in Massachusetts

A breath alcohol ignition interlock device, known as an IID or BAIID, is a device which is designed to lock out the ignition of a driver whose blood alcohol content (BAC) is above a pre-set limit. In Massachusetts, the blood alcohol level is set at .02. The ignition interlock device is connected to the vehicle’s ignition system and a handset is installed under the vehicle’s dashboard. In order to start an ignition interlock equipped vehicle, the driver must blow into the handset, to have his or her breath analyzed to determine its alcohol content. If the driver’s BAC registers at or above a pre-set reading, the vehicle will not start and a violation will be recorded. Violations at or above a certain pre-programmed level may result in a lockout. When a lockout occurs, the vehicle will not start until the lockout is cleared. Some lockouts can be cleared by following instructions from an ignition interlock service provider while others may require the vehicle to be towed to the service center.

In order to start an ignition interlock equipped vehicle, the driver must blow into the handset, to have his or her breath analyzed to determine its alcohol content. If the driver’s BAC registers at or above a pre-set reading, the vehicle will not start and a violation will be recorded. Violations at or above a certain pre-programmed level may result in a lockout. When a lockout occurs, the vehicle will not start until the lockout is cleared. Some lockouts can be cleared by following instructions from an ignition interlock service provider while others may require the vehicle to be towed to the service center.In Massachusetts, initial start violations, which occur when an ignition-interlock equipped vehicle will not start due to an alcohol reading at or above .02, may result in a lockout and this may trigger a violation hearing at the RMV.

Two initial start failures during the same service period may result in a lockout and the issuance of an Ignition Interlock Violation Notice. If you are found at fault, after a hearing, the Registry may revoke your license for 10 years for a first offense and life for a second offense.

To ensure that the driver has not consumed alcohol while driving or solicited someone to provide the initial start breath sample, the ignition interlock device will require the driver to perform rolling re-tests, at random intervals, while the engine is running. A rolling re-test reading of .05 is considered an Ignition Interlock Violation in Massachusetts and it will result in a 10 year or lifetime license revocation if the driver is found guilty after a violation hearing. If you have received an ignition interlock violation notice, you should contact a lawyer.

Two or more rolling re-test violations during a service period showing alcohol readings of between .02 and .05 will also result in a violation which may result in a 10 year or permanent license revocation. Likewise, two ignition interlock device lockouts due to missed rolling re-tests will result in a violation as will two missed monthly IID service visits.

Massachusetts ignition interlock users are required to attend monthly service visits to have their IIDs downloaded, calibrated, and maintained. Ignition interlocks record all breath samples, engine starts, engine stops, loss of power, requested breath tests, and circumvention, disconnection, and tampering attempts. This information is downloaded on a monthly basis and the service provider transmits the information to the Ignition Interlock Unit of the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Boston. The RMV analyzes the data to determine if violations occurred. The Mass. RMV schedules hearings if finds evidence of violations.

The Ignition Interlock Removal Process

Melanie’s law requires repeat DUI offenders to use a certified Ignition Interlock Device for the duration of any DUI hardship license and for a minimum of two years after removal of the hardship “H” license restriction. Once you have served enough time with the Ignition Interlock Device, you can go through the IID removal process.

First, you must have a final download performed and ask that the results of this download, which is done at your local IID service provider, be transmitted to the Registry’s Ignition Interlock Department in Boston, Massachusetts.

If your final download shows that for the 6 month period immediately preceding your removal request,  there were no ignition interlock infractions or violations such as initial start violations, missed rolling re-tests, missed service visits, or failed rolling re-tests, you will be granted authorization to have the IID removed from your vehicle. You should only have the device removed after a Registry Hearing Officer grants you removal authorization. Premature removal of the IID may result in an immediate revocation of your license.

If the final IID download shows violations or infractions, the Registry of Motor Vehicles will deny you removal and you will be required to serve at least 6 additional months with the IID. If a Registry Hearing Officer authorizes the removal, you must turn in your driver’s license which shows the “Z” Ignition Interlock Restriction and you will be issued a new license which does not show that restriction. The cost for a new license is $30.00.

You must follow the above-listed procedures to have your IID legally removed once you have served enough time. Removing the device without going through this process may result in a license revocation and other serious penalties and consequences.  Until your “Z” restriction is lifted by the Registry, you cannot own, lease, or drive any motor vehicle which is not equipped with a certified IID.

Allowing Operation without the IID

G.L. c. 90 § 12(c) prohibits allowing a person who has an ignition interlock restricted license from operating a motor vehicle which does not have a certified and functional Ignition Interlock Device installed. This means that if you knowingly allow a motor vehicle which you own or control to be driven or operated by someone who has the “Z” restriction on his or her license, you may face a 1 year sentence of incarceration in a house of correction and a fine of up to $500.00. Also, the Registry of Motor Vehicles may suspend your driver’s license or revoke your motor vehicle registration for up to one year.

Whenever a customer joins the Registry’s Ignition Interlock Program, the Registry will require that customer to provide a signed “other licensed resident” affidavit. This is a sworn and notarized statement which must be signed by any licensed driver who resides in the customer’s household. This affidavit can be used in a criminal prosecution or Registry hearing to prove that the other licensed resident knew that the customer’s license was restricted to operating only those vehicles which have a functioning and certified ignition interlock.

If you have someone living with you whose license is restricted, you must not allow him or her to operate your vehicle unless it is equipped with an IID and registered with the RMV ignition interlock program. Being caught operating without interlock may subject the restricted-driver to severe criminal and administrative penalties and it may subject the car owner or person in control of the car to serious consequences.

Ignition Interlock Devices are not Breathalyzers

Ignition Interlock Devices which are in use in Massachusetts are often thought of and referred to as Breathalyzers. However, they’re really not. Although these devices measure a driver’s blood alcohol content, they’re not designed or certified to meet the accuracy standards which true Breathalyzers must satisfy. Ignition Interlock Devices were never intended to meet the stringent evidentiary standards which must be satisfied for admission as evidence in  Massachusetts Courts. Instead, the sole intended purpose of these devices is to lockout the ignition of someone who is under the influence of alcohol. Breathalyzers are subjected to extensive testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well as private laboratories to ensure accuracy and reliability. This testing is based on standards established for scientific instruments. The Model Specifications for Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Devices are much different than those which Breathalyzers must pass.

I am aware of no court decision holding that ignition interlock devices are scientifically reliable enough to identify and accurately return a “positive” test indicating the presence of consumed alcohol in a person’s breath. Ignition Interlock related evidence is scientific in nature and a proper foundation must be laid for its introduction. Although Breathalyzer readings are commonly accepted in legal proceedings, based on prior court decisions, I am aware of no such decisions regarding the admissibility of scientific evidence generated by IIDs. Given the undisputed accuracy issues associated with ignition interlock devices, it is unlikely that their readings would pass muster and be admitted as evidence in court. IIDs are susceptible to false positive readings due to mouth alcohol, foods and other products containing alcohol, and influences of substances other than alcohol which the device misinterprets as alcohol. Also, evidentiary breath testing devices used in Massachusetts must have immediate calibration standard analysis performed. Ignition Interlock Devices do not perform this immediate analysis.

Lawyers representing clients who are facing 10 year license revocations for alleged ignition interlock violations in the form of initial start failures or rolling re-test violations should be aware that IID readings should not given the same weight as actual breathalyzer results and there are serious concerns regarding their admissibility based on Daubert-Lanigan admissibility requirements.

IID Removal Requires 6 Months of no Violations or Infractions

I recently received this inquiry from a driver who is desperately trying to terminate his ignition interlock usage after serving more than the required two years. His story is not unique. It chronicles the struggle that many interlock users face when it is time for removal.

I am mandated by MassDot to have an interlock device in my vehicle.  I have had this device in my car for 6 long years because of a second offense OUI found guilty in 2009.  The registry told me I had to have a device in my car for 2 years on a full-time driver’s license.  I “jumped through the hoops” and was finally able to get my license back under restriction Z.  6 years later and I am still stuck with a device in my car because of failed start ups and rolling retest violations. I feel completely trapped and hopeless.

I started off with a company called Guardian and right away I started having problems.  The device would fail me for no reason or any reason I could think of and ironically it would seem to happen right before I had to get my monthly calibration.   Don’t get me wrong I had many months of all passed startup and rolling retests, but I could not go six months with a perfect record.

After 4 years of getting stranded, losing jobs, and just getting frustrated I decided to switch to another company called Sens-O-Lock of America.  For the first couple of months everything was fine until my device started to malfunction and I had to swap and get a new device installed.  In short I had to do this six times until the company sent me a working device.  After two years with Sens-O-Lock I decided to stop listening to the people who calibrated the device every month, (they told me not to bother trying to get it removed because of a couple small violations in every six month period) and try and get the device removed.

I figured that they would look at my documented proof that I missed “many rolling retests” because of the relay box malfunctioning and the two failed start-ups were .028 and .027 (not on the same date.)  On both failed attempts to start the car, I blew into the device again approximately 1 minute and 30 seconds later and passed with a BAC of .000.  This has happened MANY times, and it clearly proves that in every case it was anything from food, drink, toothpaste, cigarette smoke, I could go on and on.

I need some sort of legal representation because I’ve tried and had all the proof, but they (RMV) didn’t even care.  The past six years have been a nightmare and I feel completely trapped and frustrated. I have definitely paid my dues and all I want is this mess behind me.  Thank you for reading this, and hopefully things will turn out fair and just.

This shows the frustration that some Massachusetts Ignition Interlock users experience when trying to have the IID removed after having served all of the required time. In order to get the “Z” Restriction removed from a driver’s license, the customer must have a final download performed and it must show 6 months of no violations or infractions. IID users must be proactive, especially during the 6 month period immediately preceding their projected removal date. IID customers are advised to remove all possible sources of contamination from their vehicles, do not eat or drink anything prior to attempting to start the vehicle, rinse with water, immediately report and document any false positives, have any equipment which is suspected of malfunctioning replaced by the vendor, eliminate alcohol consumption, especially before driving, and be aware of problems caused by residual alcohol.

Mouth Alcohol Causes False Readings

Mouth alcohol is residual alcohol that is present after a person consumes certain foods or drinks. It is also present in breath sprays, mints, some types of gum, mouthwashes, and some medications. It is important to remember that interlocks have no ability to distinguish between mouth alcohol and alcohol in a person’s bloodstream. There is no dispute that mouth alcohol can cause false positive ignition interlock readings in the form of initial start failures and failed rolling re-tests. Either of these violations can result in harsh consequences in Massachusetts, where the Registry administers the Ignition Interlock Program with a zero-tolerance approach.

Mouth alcohol can also cause false readings in DUI cases. This is why the state breath testing regulations call for a fifteen-minute observation period prior to the administration of an evidentiary breath test.  Because both breathalyzers and ignition interlocks are designed to measure deep lung air, alcohol blown directly into either type of device can result in very high readings.

In order to avoid month alcohol problems, ignition interlock users should not consume anything by mouth that could trigger a false positive IID reading for 15 minutes prior to attempting to drive. It is safe to drink water and to rinse with water prior to taking an initial start or re-test. In the event of false positive readings, IID users should consider mouth alcohol as a potential cause. Some ignition interlock devices are programmed to delay follow up tests to allow mouth alcohol to subside. Fortunately, mouth alcohol dissipates fairly quickly and waiting a few minutes can allow the alcohol to reach an acceptable level.

There are different types of alcohols and any chemical which ends in “ol” is a member of the alcohol family. This means that a medication such as albuterol, which is commonly used to in inhalers treat asthma, can trigger false readings. Anti-freeze and some windshield washer fluids which contain ethylene glycol to keep the product from freezing can also trigger false interlock results.

Common breath sprays which people use to mask bad breath often contain alcohol and these have been known to generate inaccurate readings. Interlock users should be aware this and stop using them to prevent potential failed breath tests and resulting license revocations.

When reviewing alcohol readings, mouth alcohol can usually be identified because the alcohol level will fall rapidly, due to the rapid dissipation of mouth alcohol as opposed to alcohol in a person’s bloodstream which is measured by an analysis of deep lung air.

Massachusetts Ignition Interlock customers who experience violations due to mouth alcohol should immediately document the circumstances and contact the Registry as well as the IID service provider. It might be possible to get an exculpatory test at a police station or medical facility such as an urgent care clinic, laboratory, or hospital.

Car Batteries and Ignition Interlock Devices

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles requires all repeat DUI offenders to use ignition interlock devices while operating on a DUI Cinderella license and for a minimum of 2 years after removal of the H restriction.

Ignition Interlock Devices (IIDs) depend on power from the vehicle’s electrical system and they must receive a constant 12 volt power supply in order to work properly. A drop in voltage may be interpreted as an attempt at disconnection, circumvention, or tampering, all of which are serious offenses which may result in 10 year license revocations and potential criminal charges.

To avoid the appearance of violating the Ignition Interlock Program requirements, you should ensure that your vehicle’s battery and electrical system are in good condition. Replacing an old or failing car battery may save you from having problems with your IID. The device requires some amount of electricity constantly, even when a breath test is not being conducted or when the car or truck is not running. This can drain the vehicle’s battery and it might prevent you from being able to start your car, especially in cold weather.

If you do not drive your vehicle for several days, and your car battery is not in good condition, you might experience a battery problem when you finally try to start the vehicle. This occurs because of the constant drain on the vehicle’s battery and the lack of charging. You can avoid this problem by ensuring that your car battery is in good condition and you may want to consider replacing a battery that doesn’t hold a charge. This might prevent you from needing to have the vehicle jump started.

As an ignition interlock user, anytime you replace your car battery or have work done on your vehicle’s electrical system, you should notify the repair facility that your car is equipped with an ignition interlock device and provide the facility with your service provider’s contact information. You should save all documentation showing what work was performed and when it was done. Service work orders and receipts can be used as exculpatory evidence at an ignition interlock violation hearing to account for what might look like circumvention, disconnection, or tampering.

The Unreliable Fuel Cell

The Ignition Interlock Devices used in Massachusetts are not “breathalyzers.” Instead, they are lockout devices. This means that they have not been tested and certified as scientific test instruments. They have only been tested and certified to lockout a motor vehicle’s ignition when a breath sample registers at or above a pre-determined setpoint.

Under the Registry’s Ignition Interlock Device Regulations, when IID breath readings register breath test failures and there are two failures during a single service period, a lockout will be triggered and that must be cleared by the IID service provider. When the service provider notifies the RMV, the Registry will schedule an Interlock Violation Hearing. If the customer is found to be responsible, he or she will receive a ten-year license revocation for a first offense. If the customer is found responsible on a second occasion, his or her driver’s license will be revoked for life.

Ignition Interlock Devices use electrochemical fuel cell sampling to analyze alcohol content in a breath sample. The fuel cell is an electrochemical device which is used to measure alcohol content. The fuel cell oxidizes ethyl alcohol and this oxidization process generates a small amount of electrical current, which is measured and translated into a BAC reading.

These fuel cell devices lack specificity. The devices will detect and indiscriminately “mistake” a large number of chemicals as ethanol. Fuel cells are also susceptible to false readings due to “mouth alcohol,” which his alcohol or a similar chemical trapped in the test subject’s mouth and blown directly into the Ignition Interlock Device. I have personally seen very high false readings due to mouth alcohol. Fuel cell based devices such as the IIDs used in Massachusetts are also subject to a buildup of oxide film on the electrode, which has caused false positive alcohol readings. Also, Ignition Interlock Devices can be susceptible to temperature extremes.

Due to these well-known limitations, G.L. c. 90 § 24K prohibits the introduction breathalyzer results obtained solely from fuel cell devices. To be admissible in criminal DUI trials in Massachusetts, the blood alcohol content results must come from a breath testing device that uses infrared spectroscopy and not solely a fuel cell.

If you are facing a 10 year or lifetime license revocation due to an Ignition Interlock Violation, please contact me for a consultation and review of your case.

New RMV Document Requirements

In order to comply with the Real ID Act, which is a federal law, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles will be imposing certain requirements for the issuance of Massachusetts Driver’s Licenses which comply with the security requirements of the Real ID Act. This new secure credential will be required for entry into certain government buildings as well as for air travel after October of 2020, when the identification deadline goes into effect.

On March 26, 2018, to get or renew any driver’s license, ID card, or learner’s permit, customers will need documentation showing United States citizenship or lawful presence as required by both U.S. and Massachusetts law.

Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful presence in the United Statas is required to obtain a Real ID Act Complaint Driver’s License as well as a Registry Identification Card, which is not Real ID Act Compliant. The Real ID Act Compliant License cannot be processed and obtained on-line. Instead, you must physically visit a Registry Branch.

To get this new type of driver’s license, you must prove your identity with certain documents. Acceptable documents include a Social Security Card, W-2 Form from your employer, a Social Security Administration (SSA) 10-99 Form, or a pay stub which shows the customer’s name and Social Security Number. These documents must show the entire nine (9) digit Social Security Number and not just the last 4 digits.

The Registry will verify the Social Security Number through the Social Security Administration’s on-line database to insure that it is valid and was issued to the individual presenting it.

A Mass. Driver’s License Applicant who does not have a valid Social Security Number (SSN) will have to provide a denial notice from the United States Social Security Administration, a foreign passport with a valid visa, and a U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) I-94 form, showing how the customer entered the United States.

Next, the customer seeking a Real-ID Compliant license must prove his or her Massachusetts residency with an official mail piece, which is not more than 60 day old. Acceptable examples include letters from the Registry, letters from a federal, state, or local government agency, utility bills, leases or mortgages, certain financial documents, and/or school-issued documents. Any item provided must be dated within 60 days of presentation.

All persons seeking a Real-ID Complaint license must prove lawful presence in the United States this can be accomplished by the presentation of a US Passport, Certified copy of US Birth Certificate, Citizenship or Naturalization certificate, Permanent Resident Card, Employment Authorization Card, Foreign Passport with U.S. Visa affixed and I-94 Stamp, or U.S. Consular Report of Birth Abroad.

There is no flexibility when it comes to the requirements to obtain a Real ID Act Complaint Driver’s License.

Penalties for Driving While Suspended

Thousands of drivers are charged with operating after suspension or revocation in Massachusetts each year. These charges can have serious consequences in the form of fines, fees, towing, inconvenience, lost time from work, additional suspension time, habitual traffic offender penalties, reinstatement fees, court appearances, insurance premium increases and legal costs.

It is extremely easy to get caught driving while suspended in Massachusetts. Most police cruisers are equipped with laptops which are connected the Registry of Motor Vehicles. These computers will alert the police that a driver’s license has been suspended or revoked. Also, some cruisers have automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) systems. These systems automatically scan license plates.

A police officer cannot allow a motorist whose license has been suspended to drive away. This usually means that your car will have to be towed and you will be required to pay towing and storage fees. Sometimes you will be arrested and other times you will be summonsed to appear in court as a criminal defendant.

If you are convicted of operating after revocation, you may be sentenced to serve time in jail. This depends on your prior record and why your license was suspended. For example, If your license was suspended for DUI and you are convicted of driving on a license suspended for drunk driving, the law imposes a minimum mandatory 60 day jail sentence.  Given the potential penalties and consequences, it is advisable to hire a lawyer if you are charged with driving while suspended.

Many people who are prosecuted for OAS could have avoided the situation by being issued a hardship license or early reinstatement of the driver’s fulltime license by appearing either before the Driver Control Unit of the Registry of Motor Vehicles or the Division of Insurance, Board of Appeal. These two agencies have the ability to grant driving privileges when a person’s license has been suspended for certain reasons.

Given the penalties and consequences associated with an Operating After Suspension conviction, it might make sense to attempt to get a hardship license or full license reinstatement. Please contact us if you would like more information regarding these options.