Interlock Systems for Low Breath Function

There are a number of scenarios where the interlock system may be required to operate a motor vehicle. Here are several:

  • Persons who took the Intoximeter 3000 at the police station and scored 0.15 or higher;
  • Persons who refused to take the Intoximeter 3000 after the police officer read to the defendant his or her advice of rights as a form known as the DR15;
  • Persons under the influence of alcohol (drunk) and could not take the Intoximeter 3000; or
  • Persons injured in an accident and were transported to the emergency room of the hospital where blood samples were taken that showed 0.15 or higher.

Persons with inadequate breath function, or without a strong ability to blow, have several problems and so the Intoximeter 3000 may give a higher reading.

This article focuses on people who have various medical issues and are taking bonafide prescriptions that will interfere with the police Intoximeter 3000 score or participation in the interlock system. It is not feasible to participate in the interlock program unless several measures are accomplished, including having an evaluation by a pulmonary physician. Our office procedure is to immediately have a pulmonary physician perform a pulmonary functional test. Persons with low breath function may have the interlock system calibrated consistent with the individualized functional breath level. Also we gather medical records to identify the medications clients are taking. Here are a few examples of medical issues that can affect pulmonary function:

  • Asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • Narcolepsy
  • Blood pressure
  • Collapsed diaphragm

Assuming that the individual has low pulmonary function, medical records must be quickly sent to MVA that deal with the interlock program. It is important to direct the medical records of the pulmonary function examination to the pulmonary physician at the MVA who will review them so that the defendant’s application can be processed for the lowering of the interlock equipment. Despite the fact that well-meaning employees of the MVA have described the turnaround time to be two weeks, often it is longer when the demand is high. The pulmonary physician and staff may require the driver who has low breath function to complete a questionnaire to determine whether or not the driver’s low breath function and other medical issues should be reviewed by Medical Advisory Board within the Motor Vehicle Administration.

My representation includes meeting with the client with regard to the arrest and the reason(s) why the individual was stopped on the highway or on a public road. I obtain a medical history and arrange for the client to be examined by a private pulmonary physician who will have the client undergo a preliminary function test. The test results may indicate that the client has low breath function. If that is the case, then if the client were to utilize the interlock system program, the equipment would not properly register the client’s breath without have the equipment calibrated. The interlock system program requires the client to breathe into the interlock equipment each time the client wants to start his/her vehicle. If the client has been drinking, the client will not be able to start the vehicle. After the client has started the car and has driven it, the equipment, will occasionally notify the client by an indicator on the vehicle dashboard that a another testing of his breath is required. The client has 10 minutes to pull over and to start the equipment’s assessment of his or her breath. Occasionally, the equipment will register the wrong result. This can be dealt with by contacting the company who rents the equipment to the client.

When the equipment is properly calibrated, it takes into consideration the fact that the client has low breath and the client will be able to operate his vehicle in the normal course.

The main reason the interlock system has been established is to give clients a choice when they either have refused the breathalyzer or have scored a blood alcohol content of .15 or greater at the police station.

The client has a choice of the following:

  1. Suspension of his/her license for 180 days. However, if the client has requested a hearing, the 180 days begins 15 days from the client’s hearing date.
  2. Participate in the interlock system program. This involves the Motor Vehicle Administration and a private vendor who rents and installs and monitors the equipment.

By participating in the interlock system program, the client can avoid going to a hearing at the Office of Administrative Hearings and thereby avoid the administrative fees. However, if there is a reasonable basis to challenge the stop, the client should not waive the right to a hearing and rather attend the hearing and have the lawyer challenge the stop, client’s consent to take the breathalyzer, and other related issues.

The Motor Vehicle Administrations has discretionary powers to grant a lowering of the calibration on the interlock equipment installed in the client’s vehicle. The client must, if participating in the interlock system, make sure that all vehicles that he or she drives have the interlock equipment installed in them.

Below is some practical information that may be helpful in understanding the process, however it is always best to have an attorney who is familiar with the process to contact the Motor Vehicle Administration’s staff and a pulmonary physician.

  • If the driver is wearing a cologne or a fragrance of flowers or any other scents, or if passengers have about their person these scents or smells described, the equipment may not function properly and you would not be able to start the vehicle.
  • Phone number of the Motor Vehicle Administration’s voice phone number: 410-762-5099; , to send a fax, the number is 410-762-5088. [This article was prepared on or about June 30 and it is possible that the above numbers as of the date you read this article may have changed.]
  • Whether by letter or facsimile make sure that you include the driver’s Soundex number which is the client’s license number. Although the staff are very responsive, it may take more than two weeks for the Motor Vehicle Administration to evaluate the documents that have been sent describing your need to have the equipment calibrated to meet your need of low breath function. We often follow up by calling the Motor Vehicle Administration’s interlock system program to make sure they have received our documents. The purpose of follow-up is to protect the client’s ability to be able to drive the vehicle in which specially calibrated equipment has been installed. Without approval from the interlock system program, the client may not be able to drive his or her vehicle. Upon acceptance of the documents, including medical history and pulmonary function test, the Motor Vehicle Administration’s pulmonary physician may grant a lower calibration.
  • On the back of the temporary driver’s license there is a request wherein the driver can elect to waive his or her right to an administrative hearing at the Office of Administrative Hearings. If the client waives his or her right, the equipment must be installed within 30 days from the date of the incident wherein the client was cited for driving under the influence or while impaired.
  • The vendors who supply the interlock system equipment are also listed on the back of the temporary driver’s license.
  • I spoke to 15 national vendors including local vendors and I only found one that actually was familiar with calibrating the equipment to a lower level and that company’s contact information is as follows: Lifesaver Company franchise located at 8328 Veterans Hwy., Millersville, MD 21108; phone number 410-987-4251. The company offers two brand names of equipment --Guardian and Lifesaver. Lifesaver may be better, however you need to see and test which brand name may best meet your needs.

Drinking and driving unfortunately occurs very often. Advertising during sports programs and peer pressure result in the consumption of alcoholic beverages to the point that people must not drink and drive. You must decide before drinking that you’re not going to operate a motor vehicle. Once you start drinking, your judgment is not adequate for you to determine whether or not it is safe for you to drive. Also pay strict attention to your prescriptions because many prescriptions require that you do not consume alcohol. Persons with asthma utilize inhalers and this may affect the breathalyzer test at the police station.

Meeting with me on the date of the incident or the date following has many benefits including but not limited to you are more likely to accurately recall details of the incident and you will learn about your options when navigating a system that is like a maze.

Proceeding on your own reminds me of President Abraham Lincoln’s phrase “ He(she) who represents himself or herself has a fool for a client.”

Obtaining approval from the Motor Vehicle Administration’s interlock system program takes time, and, therefore, seeing a lawyer as soon as possible after the arrest requires immediate contact with us.

Fredric G. Antenberg is an attorney in Howard County, Maryland, who has represented clients in the Central Maryland counties surrounding Howard County for over 30 years. Call him today at (410) 730-4404, for a Free Initial Consultation if you have been cited with a DUI/DWI and are considering the Interlock Program.