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Tales of a Breathalyzer Tech - Page 2

By Jeff Winkler 10/29/12

Drunk-driving arrests surge over Halloween. Those caught can be required to get a breathalyzer installed in their car—by a technician like Tony. He tells The Fix about the culprits he meets, the bribes he refuses and the wrecks he sees.

Ignition Interlock Devices make sure a driver is sober before starting his or her car.
Photo via

(page 2)

What are some other ways people try to bypass the system?

A lot of people will hit their starter solenoid. You can bypass that and start your vehicle. It’ll show up on the report, though, and when it [does] ... they report it to driver control and that person isn’t eligible for an interlock anymore. That’s the number one way.

Another way, people sometimes will just get in there and mess with the wiring. But you can tell. I have tamper tape on there, so when that seal’s broken, you can tell somebody has messed with their device. Another way is people with a standard transmission will try to pop the clutch and start the vehicle. And it’ll work, but [it also shows up on the report].

"He crashed into a tree and killed both he and his passenger. I remember I had to go get the interlock out of the car, and it looked like a crushed can."

When we were chatting before, I was surprised to hear that another way to bypass the system was to offer you a bribe.

Oh yeah! Yes, I’ve had people offer me bribes before. I’ve told them “No, this is the thing with that....”

I had a kid when I was working in Wynne, a little town just south of Jonesboro. I was over there servicing interlocks one day and he’d always showed up for his appoints, but he never showed up one time. 

And I called him, called his work. They said, “Well, you haven’t heard? He died in a car wreck.” He was drinking and driving. I guess he was having someone blow into [the IID] for him.

He was just an 18-year-old kid, I don’t remember his name or anything, it’s been so long. He crashed into a tree and killed both [he and his passenger]. They weren’t wearing their seatbelts. It threw them out of the front windshield about 30 feet. So he hit a tree and it killed him. I remember I had to go get the interlock out of [the car], and it looked like a crushed can. After I saw that—‘cause I wasn’t going to bypass anyone’s interlock for them anyway—but that right there actually brought it to light about how dangerous it is.

That sounds like the roughest part of the job, having to go to these wrecks and pulling out the systems from the cars of people who’ve messed up.

Yeah, that was hard. I had to go over there and I had to pull that out of the vehicle. I just knew that he was young and ... when you’re young, when you’re 18 years old you think you’re [invincible]. He was an alright kid, he just needed to grow up, and I know part of growing up is being reckless, but boy, you gotta be more [careful] than that ... it’s just too bad.

[People are] going to make up stories about how it’s an inconvenience and this and that. But that’s what it’s there for. It’s suppose to teach them a lesson. Folks need to realize how dangerous it is, that’s why they have these laws.

I would never want to be responsible [for] someone dying. Because, some people just can’t help themselves. There’s a lot of people with addictive personalities. I see that.

I’ve seen all kinds of people who can’t stop. And with those personalities, you know, that’s where alcoholics come from. Not saying that a majority of my clients are alcoholics, but there are a few out there that have problems with alcohol and you can tell. Because a lot of my clients, I know this, they make mistakes. That’s what a lot of people go through. I won’t see them again. But there’s those few I see more than once. I see them two or three times. Then you know they got issues.

Do you think IIDs are the best deterrent, as opposed to fines or jail or suspension of licence?

Well, they do it all now with DWIs. The interlock is part of it and then ... in Arkansas they have to also attend alcohol counseling and go to a victim impact panel, which is MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They go to that and the MADD victim impact panel is usually someone that has [had] a family member killed by a drunk driver.

All of it, I think, works together and it teaches them—it hits them with the fines, it hits you in the pocket with the money. With the interlock, it teaches you that driving is a privilege. And it also teaches you, with the counseling classes, how dangerous [driving] is with alcohol.

Is bribery common?

No, it doesn’t happen very often. It’s rare. That may happen about once a year. But when it does, I tell people the story about that kid [who crashed his car] and I say, “Look, I didn’t do anything for him, but what if I had? What if I had done something for him?” That puts things into perspective.

Jeff Winkler has written for VICE magazine, The Awl and The Billfold, among others. He also wrote Drying Out With Jesus for The Fix.

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Jeff Winkler is a Nashville-based writer, video anchor, and documentary producer. He is the winner of the Carter Journalism Institute's Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award and you can find him on Twitter.

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