SALINA — Companies that provide ignition-locking devices for vehicles are preparing for a surge in business after a new state law requiring more drivers to use them went into effect on July 1.
The demand for ignition interlock systems began even before Kansas enacted the law that requires more people to install the devices after being convicted of drunken driving. The vehicles won't start if the machines detect alcohol on the breath of a driver who blows into it.
The law requires first-time offenders to have interlock installed in their vehicles for at least six months. Subsequent offenses mean having the devices in a vehicle longer, culminating with 10 years for a fifth DUI. Previously, the devices weren't required until a person had a second DUI offense.
Jeremy Gentry, operations manager for Hutchinson-based LifeSafer Interlock of Kansas, said that company plans to add several new service centers and 30 more installation sites to the 17 Kansas sites already operating.
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The law requires first-time offenders to have interlock installed in their vehicles for at least six months. Subsequent offenses mean more years of interlock requirements, culminating with 10 years for a fifth DUI. Previously, the devices usually weren't required until a person had a second DUI offense.
"We've been noticing our numbers going up in Kansas even before the law changed," said Brad Fralick, the director of government relations for Consumer Safety Technology, of Des Moines, Iowa., one of seven companies manufacturing interlock devices approved for use in Kansas.
Since Kansas and five other states recently increased interlock requirements, the calls coming in indicate an 80 percent increase in demand, he said.
"We're looking at expanding in Kansas and I'm guessing all our competitors are, too," he said.
Some drivers who know they have an alcohol problem are voluntarily installing the devices, said Linda Smith, office and accounts manager, of Smart Start of Kansas, based in Moundridge.
"It can help change your life," Smith said. "That's what's really important to us, helping the client so they are not a danger to society and so they won't be hurt. It gives them an opportunity to still be a working part of the community in a safe way."
Some drivers can find ways to cheat. But having someone else blow into the device or driving without interlock installed — except a company-owned vehicle while at work — will mean having the system in their vehicles longer. And a judge might require installation of a more expensive camera unit.
For many, the experience of driving with an interlock is eye-opening, Smith said.
"People have told us they had no idea how much alcohol was in their system after drinking, and that it would never happen again," she said.
The interlocks used in Kansas are based on fuel-cell technology, which has an alcohol-specific reaction, Fralick said. But that can mean it will pick up alcohol in mouthwash, breath sprays, cough syrup, gum, toothpaste and other products.
Alcohol in the mouth, rather than in the blood stream, dissipates quickly and a required retest will show an immediate drop-off in levels, Fralick said. Any trained technician would be able to tell the difference between alcohol in the mouth and alcohol in the blood, he said.