The Eagle Tribune reports that a man in Pelham named John T. LeVasseur was arrested on November 22nd for drunk driving. What is interesting about this case is that LeVasseur was driving a vehicle installed with an ignition interlock device which is designed to prevent impaired drivers from operating their vehicle.
The situation began when a concerned citizen called the police to report witnessing LeVasseur's truck hit a tree at an intersection and drive away. She stated that the truck was driving erratically. When police found him, he was reportedly so impaired that he could not even stand. He failed field sobriety tests and was found with marijuana and empty alcohol bottles in his vehicle. He is being charged with a laundry list of offenses including:
- DWI per se
- DWI second offense
- Aggravated DWI
- Conduct after an accident
- Possession of marijuana
- Transportation of marijuana
The troubling fact of this situation is that LeVasseur was using a device that was designed to prevent this sort of thing from happening. He has had two prior DWI convictions, one in 1984 in New Hampshire and one in 2009 in North Carolina. As a result of this, he was sentenced to install an alcohol ignition interlocking device in his car. Ignition interlock devices or IIDs are small devices that are installed in a vehicle that require the driver to give a breath sample before starting the engine. If the device detects alcohol in the sample, it will not let the vehicle be started. DWI offenders are can install these devices as a condition of license reinstatement in certain states.
IIDs are constantly being touted by anti-drunk driving groups like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) as the best way of stopping drunk drivers. According to their site, IIDs are:
a simple and economical way to make sure that offenders can drive to and from work, but that they can't drive drunk.
When police asked LeVasseur how he was able to get his vehicle started, he stated that he gave a breath sample and it let him start the engine as usual. Police are still looking into whether or not this was really the case.
Luckily, no one was hurt by LeVasseur's drunk driving, but this story does shed some light on how ignition interlocks can fail. In New Hampshire, it is illegal for any driver using the device to ask for someone else to provide a breath sample and it is illegal for any person to provide a driver with a sample. The penalties for these crimes are class A misdemeanors and include a $500 fine and, for those using a IID, two additional years of use.
In addition to having another give a breath sample, there is a slim chance that LeVasseur was sober when he started his vehicle and proceeded to consume alcohol while driving as is evident by the empty bottles found in his vehicle. If this was the case, he likely drank very quickly. IIDs are designed to ask for periodic breath samples as the vehicle is being run as a safeguard. Regardless of how it happened, this situation shows that there is no perfect solution to stop impaired drivers from operating vehicles.