Criticism of motorist alcohol devices

Poor equipment is reportedly responsible for many people here losing their driver’s licences and sometimes even their jobs.

 Sweden has a programme where people convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol can keep their licences, if they agree to having an ignition interlock device in their car for two years. Motorists have to blow into a tube in the device, which then is supposed to measure their alcohol level. If the level is over the legal limit for driving, the car won’t start. Three failures and they are out of the programme. And they have to pay to rent the device, which costs more than eight thousand US dollars.

But the Swedish temperance motorist organisation MHF says the technology isn’t working and many people are not only stopped from driving, they are getting wrongfully kicked out of the programme, and losing their driver’s licences. In many cases that can lead to losing their jobs or their unemployment benefits.

MHF says 80 percent of the devices being used here are 15 years old and out-of-date. They can be affected by extremes of cold, heat, or humidity. Unlike the breathalyzers used by the police, they recognize no margin of error. Worse yet, they can interpret tobacco, chocolate, or even sugar tablets as alcohol, giving, the organisation says, totally misleading results.

The newspaper Dagens Nyheter reports on a woman who had to have her car towed several times because the device failed and her car wouldn’t start. Finally, she was thrown out of the programme, because the device picked up on residue from cigarettes she had been smoking. This despite a blood test that proved she hadn’t consumed any alcohol.

Asked by Dagens Nyheter if this was fair, a representative for the Swedish Transport Agency, which administers the programme, just said that’s the way the programme works and taking part is considered a privilege.

The CEO of the company that makes the device tells Dagens Nyheter that the mistakes happen because people are using the machines improperly. And if the results vary wildly, as reported, he says it’s just because different people are blowing into the tubes.