Tighter specs for aftermarket alcohol detection devices

Jan. 1, 2020
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) plans to tighten model specifications for aftermarket devices installed in cars to prevent ignition by a driver who is inebriated.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) plans to tighten model specifications for aftermarket devices installed in cars to prevent ignition by a driver who is inebriated. The initial national specification was established in 1992. That model specification for Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Devices (BAIIDs) has stayed as is for two decades, despite significant improvement in technology, especially in the area of driver alcohol level detection.

However, aftermarket device manufacturers, installers and state motor vehicle administrators have all criticized some aspects of the new spec NHTSA proposed last October.

Typically, drivers get BAIIDs installed as the result of a drunk driving conviction by a local court. As of March 2010, 47 States and the District of Columbia allowed the use of BAIIDs for some driving while intoxicated (DWI) offenders. Of these states, 22 mandate the use of BAIIDs for repeat DWI offenders and 13 mandate or highly incentivize the use of BAIIDs by all DWI offenders, including first-time offenders.

Each state has its own laws on this issue, and some require BAIIDs that square with NHTSA's model spec; others require devices that vary from the spec. So there has been some confusion on the part of manufacturers and installers, and some costs that accrue to consumers resulting from that confusion. For example, some states allow BAIIDs that are not alcohol specific. They are based on Taguchi cell technology. These are cheaper devices, but also trigger false positives.

"Taguchi cell technology is not alcohol-specific," says David Kelly, executive director, Coalition of Ignition Interlock Manufacturers. "The unit can record a 'fail' because of cigarette smoke, acidic food such as pizza or Mexican food, acidic fruits." Interlock devices equipped with fuel-cell sensors provide more accurate readings and require less maintenance and repair. Kelly says the new NHTSA model spec should not allow the use of Taguchi cell sensors, as fuel cells have become the industry norm.

But NHTSA appears to be headed in the opposite direction. NHTSA is refusing to rule out non-alcohol specific sensors, or specify fuel cell sensors. It would approve — as part of a new national conformance testing program — any BAIID that meets the performance requirements of the model specifications. NHTSA argues this will allow a wider variety of options, including the use of emerging technologies as they become available.

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The apparent NHTSA decision to allow non-alcohol specific devices has perturbed interested parties beyond the aftermarket device manufacturers. "The American Association of Motor Vehicle Adminstrators (AAMVA) believes non-specific alcohol devices are prone to false positives and unwarranted lockouts, leading to a lower acceptance rate among drivers," says Neil D. Schuster, CEO. "Further, by allowing for both alcohol specific and non-specific devices, the changes prescribed in the rule may spur manufacturers to shift their non-alcohol-specific inventory to jurisdictions that do not require alcohol-specific devices under the guise of more affordability to the drivers. Given the potential for failure in comparison to alcohol-specific devices, this shift of devices to certain jurisdictions may provide a concentration of an inferior product in those jurisdictions."

In terms of the model spec itself, and its modernization numerically, NHTSA will reduce the current set point of 0.025 grams of alcohol per 210 Liters of air (g/dL) to 0.02 g/dL. This is the critical point that is used in the Breath Alcohol Screening Devices to indicate the presence of alcohol. "If this proposal continues to allow for non-alcohol-specific devices and NHTSA further proposes to lower the set-point threshold, AAMVA would like to have a clear justification cited for this number based on technology acceptance standards and the devices allowed," says Schuster.

 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) plans to tighten model specifications for aftermarket devices installed in cars to prevent ignition by a driver who is inebriated. The initial national specification was established in 1992. That model specification for Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Devices (BAIIDs) has stayed as is for two decades, despite significant improvement in technology, especially in the area of driver alcohol level detection.

However, aftermarket device manufacturers, installers and state motor vehicle administrators have all criticized some aspects of the new spec NHTSA proposed last October.

Typically, drivers get BAIIDs installed as the result of a drunk driving conviction by a local court. As of March 2010, 47 States and the District of Columbia allowed the use of BAIIDs for some driving while intoxicated (DWI) offenders. Of these states, 22 mandate the use of BAIIDs for repeat DWI offenders and 13 mandate or highly incentivize the use of BAIIDs by all DWI offenders, including first-time offenders.

Each state has its own laws on this issue, and some require BAIIDs that square with NHTSA's model spec; others require devices that vary from the spec. So there has been some confusion on the part of manufacturers and installers, and some costs that accrue to consumers resulting from that confusion. For example, some states allow BAIIDs that are not alcohol specific. They are based on Taguchi cell technology. These are cheaper devices, but also trigger false positives.

"Taguchi cell technology is not alcohol-specific," says David Kelly, executive director, Coalition of Ignition Interlock Manufacturers. "The unit can record a 'fail' because of cigarette smoke, acidic food such as pizza or Mexican food, acidic fruits." Interlock devices equipped with fuel-cell sensors provide more accurate readings and require less maintenance and repair. Kelly says the new NHTSA model spec should not allow the use of Taguchi cell sensors, as fuel cells have become the industry norm.

But NHTSA appears to be headed in the opposite direction. NHTSA is refusing to rule out non-alcohol specific sensors, or specify fuel cell sensors. It would approve — as part of a new national conformance testing program — any BAIID that meets the performance requirements of the model specifications. NHTSA argues this will allow a wider variety of options, including the use of emerging technologies as they become available.

PAGE 2

The apparent NHTSA decision to allow non-alcohol specific devices has perturbed interested parties beyond the aftermarket device manufacturers. "The American Association of Motor Vehicle Adminstrators (AAMVA) believes non-specific alcohol devices are prone to false positives and unwarranted lockouts, leading to a lower acceptance rate among drivers," says Neil D. Schuster, CEO. "Further, by allowing for both alcohol specific and non-specific devices, the changes prescribed in the rule may spur manufacturers to shift their non-alcohol-specific inventory to jurisdictions that do not require alcohol-specific devices under the guise of more affordability to the drivers. Given the potential for failure in comparison to alcohol-specific devices, this shift of devices to certain jurisdictions may provide a concentration of an inferior product in those jurisdictions."

In terms of the model spec itself, and its modernization numerically, NHTSA will reduce the current set point of 0.025 grams of alcohol per 210 Liters of air (g/dL) to 0.02 g/dL. This is the critical point that is used in the Breath Alcohol Screening Devices to indicate the presence of alcohol. "If this proposal continues to allow for non-alcohol-specific devices and NHTSA further proposes to lower the set-point threshold, AAMVA would like to have a clear justification cited for this number based on technology acceptance standards and the devices allowed," says Schuster.