DMV: Lab never tested some ignition-interlock systems
Posted March 11, 2010
Raleigh, N.C. — An independent lab charged by the state Division of Motor Vehicles to test ignition-interlock systems as part of a certification process for vendors didn't test some of the devices last year.
DMV Commissioner Mike Robertson said Thursday that the information, which was detailed in an affidavit filed as part of a pending lawsuit, was a key factor in his decision to halt the bidding process for the ignition locks.
An ignition-interlock system prevents a driver from starting a car until a breath analyzer has cleared the driver as being sober enough to get behind the wheel.
North Carolina courts began using the devices in 1989 in drunken-driving cases, and since then, the only firm the DMV has certified to sell the devices in the state is Morrisville-based Monitech Inc.
By some estimates, the North Carolina market for the ignition-interlock systems is worth $10 million a year.
Monitech competitor Smart Start Inc. filed suit in January in the Office of Administrative Hearing, alleging that the DMV has unfairly blocked the Texas company's attempts to sell ignition-interlock systems in North Carolina.
The lawsuit alleges that the DMV selection process requires patents that give Monitech an unfair advantage to win the state business. Court documents also allege that agency employees might have accepted gratuities, which could have influenced their decision on the contract.
Cecil Garner, president of the independent lab, filed an affidavit in the lawsuit, saying he failed Smart Start's device last year and didn't test Monitech's. He said Smart Start's device passed federal safety guidelines in 2007 but could never meet tougher state guidelines.
Garner also said in the affidavit that he is a friend of Monitech President Jerry Mobley and has gone on fishing trips with him.
Mobley said his friendship with Garner had no impact on the testing. He said his company's device didn't need to be tested last year because it had passed a more stringent test in 2007, and he expressed frustration that the DMV plans to start the certification process over from scratch.