Thousands of NSW drivers will be subject to alcohol interlocks under changes coming into effect on February 1.

Thousands of NSW drivers will be subject to alcohol interlocks under changes coming into effect on February 1.

Mandatory alcohol interlocks fitted to thousands of cars under a new system in NSW are likely to force drivers to cut much more than booze out of their system.

Motorists convicted of high-range drink driving or repeated low-range offences in NSW must have alcohol detection devices fitted to their cars for a minimum of 12 months under changes that come into effect from February 1.

Interlock devices test a driver’s breath for alcohol and electronically prevent cars from starting if more than trace amounts of booze are detected

Interlocks prevent drivers from starting their cars if they have alcohol on their breath.

Interlocks prevent drivers from starting their cars if they have alcohol on their breath.

The devices randomly retest drivers once moving to make sure they have not attempted to fool the system, though popular food, drink and grooming products can produce a false positive.

The NSW Government says all drivers caught with blood alcohol concentrations of more than 0.150 – triple the legal limit – will pay around $2200 per year to rent machines from Guardian Interlock Systems, Draeger Safety Pacific or Smart Start Interlocks. Interlocks can send reports back to authorities that show how often people drive, and whether they have tried to start the car after drinking.

The devices have been available to NSW magistrates as an optional punishment for drink-driving offences since 2003 but have not been mandatory until now.

Roads and Freight minister Duncan Gay expects up to 6000 people will be subject to the program each year.

“This program is about protecting innocent people who unfairly have their lives shattered by a drunken idiot,” Gay says.

“I will not stand for drink drivers who gamble with other people’s lives due to their stupid and irresponsible actions.

“While we’ve seen a huge drop in alcohol-related road trauma over the last 30 years, it is a disgrace to still see over 20,000 drivers in NSW convicted of drink driving offences every year.

“Most offenders face up to their actions and don’t re-offend, but unfortunately one-in-six offenders will get another drink driving offence within five years – it is this group we are targeting.”

Interlocks are used across Australia, though they re not mandatory in all states.

Stiff penalties discourage drivers from having other people to breathe into devices on behalf of a restricted driver, and those who do provide samples for restricted drivers in NSW face fines of up to $2200.

Victoria will counter that problem from January 30 with a requirement that cameras record who provides breath samples for all newly interlocks.

But the machines are not foolproof. Consumer feedback for the devices features plenty of criticism that the machines are too sensitive to alcohol and prevent people who have not consumed alcohol from starting their cars.

Disgruntled US customers have turned online to complain about limitations surrounding Smart Start interlocks that suggest “It gauges any misstep as an intent to drink and drive”, the “device can fail based on non-alcohol related issues” and that their car battery “drained dead three times”.

Fact sheets and handbooks for common interlocks suggest people avoid a range of products that can interfere with alcohol detection systems.
Six things that can fool alcohol interlock devices:

1 – Spicy food

Fiery food can interact with stomach acid to produce methane gas, which some interlock devices may incorrectly interpret as alcohol. Burping on the breathalyser may be a bad idea.

2 – Donuts and cinnamon rolls

It’s not just hot stuff that can fool a breathalyser, with sweet pastries proving problematic from time to time. Smart Start’s US website says “the sugar and the active yeast can combine to create a low level alcohol fail some of the time”, but that waiting to produce a second test should give an accurate result.

3 – Cigarettes

In some circumstances, cigarettes – particularly menthol-flavoured – can produce a false positive. Deep breathing before a test can help reduce the effect.

4 – Chocolates

Some chocolates contain a small amount of alcohol that could trigger a reaction from breathalysers. But it’s not just chocolate – a Victorian man reportedly demonstrated the effect of a Bubble O’Bill ice cream on a breathalyser during an application to have an alcohol interlock removed in 2009 by eating the treat in court and recording a blood alcohol concentration of 0.018.

5 – Mouthwash

Worried your feast of curry, donuts, chocolate and ice cream could trigger the interlock? Steer clear of rinsing with mouthwash, as some brands use alcohol to kill germs and keep breath fresh. Alcohol-free variants are available, but interlock manufacturers recommend rinsing with water rather than medicated or flavoured products.

6 – Perfume and aftershave:

Many forms of perfume and aftershave contain alcohol that can trigger interlocks. One brand says its system will not react to “heavy concentrations”, though a discreet breeze of Eau de parfum could be a better bet than bathing in Brut.


Henry Sapiecha



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