Local News

Firm sues to get piece of DMV contract

Posted January 8, 2010 5:58 p.m. EST
Updated January 9, 2010 6:51 a.m. EST

— A Texas company that makes devices that prevent people convicted of drunken driving from starting their vehicles if they've been drinking is challenging a sole-source contract the state Division of Motor Vehicles has for the devices.

Smart Start Inc. filed suit Friday in the Office of Administrative Hearing, alleging that the DMV has unfairly blocked its attempts to sell the ignition-interlock systems to the state.

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.

Despite having contracts with 40 other states, Monitech competitor Smart Start has been rejected for certification each time it has tried to enter the North Carolina market, said attorney Dan Boyce, who represents Smart Start.

"Something is not quite right here," Boyce said Friday. "There's a real problem with (the contract). They need to open it up. We need to give everybody – all these companies – the opportunity to compete fairly and evenly."

The lawsuit alleges that the DMV selection process requires patents that give Monitech an unfair advantage to win the state business.

"The way the request for certification was written, only one company could really win the contract. That's not fair," Boyce said.

He even alleged in a letter to DMV Commissioner Mike Robertson that agency employees might have accepted gratuities, which could have influenced their decision on the contract. The lawsuit provides no details to back up that claim.

Monitech President Jerry Mobley said he resents the insinuation that his company improperly won the state contract.

"Our product is light years ahead," Mobley said. "If we have an in with DMV, it's because we've always done what we've been asked to do."