RoadSafety B.C. took a huge step towards making our roads safer when, in January 2010, they implemented new legislation that made it illegal to use an electronic handheld device while driving. While frustrating for many motorists, the law was put in place to ensure that driver’s keep their eyes on the road where they belong. It isn’t something that anyone can really complain about – you can still talk on the phone if you have a hands free device with Bluetooth capabilities (as long as you aren’t a Novice driver, which is a Class 7 licence in B.C.). This law applies to everyone (although I frequently see RCMP officers using their computers while driving, and their cellphones) and is for everyone’s benefit.

But I’ve always had this nagging grudge against RoadSafety B.C. and our Provincial government for the relentless hypocrisy they apply with legislation. In this instance, it comes as a result of their assertion that talking on your cellphone is a huge distraction, and puts everyone on the roads at risk… but that having a breathalyzer installed on your car, which requires you to blow into it as you’re driving, poses no risk to the safety of road users.

The Ignition Interlock program requires certain driver’s to have a breathalyzer installed on their vehicle, at a cost of roughly $500 for installation, $125 a month for monitoring, $10 a month for insurance, and $500 for removal of the device at the end of your term – a pretty handsome chunk of change. The device, which you are required to blow (with a PASS reading) into to start your vehicle, is finicky and unreliable. Mouthwash, orange juice, windshield wiper fluid, and many other substances can interfere with the results of the test. But that isn’t the huge issue I have with it. My issue is with respect to the fact that you are required to blow into the device while you’re driving.

Yes, while you’re merging on the highway during a torrential downpour with a crying baby in the backseat, your little device will go BEEP BEEP BEEP, signalling that it’s time for you to provide another sample (about 5 minutes after you start driving, then 10 minutes after that, 15 minutes after that, and so on).

An argument can be made that you should pull over to provide a sample. Well, it isn’t always safe to do so – in fact, sometimes it’s illegal (on a highway for instance). So what happens if you just don’t blow into it? Well, this handy little device keeps track of all your samples, including the ones you don’t provide in an adequate time period (at your monthly calibration appointment, the information from your device will be downloaded and reviewed. An unsavoury record may require a lengthier term). Failure to provide a sample will cause your car alarm and hazard lights to go off, effectively scaring everyone within ear shot, and, yes…causing a distraction.  

Yes, that’s right. The device that’s meant to save lives may actually cause some damage.  Now I’m not saying that the entire program is a crapshoot. I fully agree that this device does serve its purpose in many respects. I would not dispute that on many occasions, it has prevented drunk drivers from getting on the road. But it is, as I said before, extremely hypocritical and contradictory to fairly new legislation. Interestingly enough, I haven’t encountered anyone yet who has been ticketed for using it while driving, and I wonder if there are any of those cases out there. Perhaps the argument that would come from RoadSafety B.C. would boast that if Ignition Interlock keeps one drunk driver off the road, saves one life, then it’s worth it. But the fact is that the Ignition Interlock device is a distraction to the driver who has to use it – plain and simple. An argument can even be made that it requires more attention for use than one might employ when answering a phone call. But RoadSafety B.C. and our Provincial Government won’t be taking their hands out of the pockets of B.C. motorists any time soon – the Ignition Interlock program is here to stay, whether you’re paying attention or not.