Local News

DMV to study how ignition-interlock vendor chosen

Posted May 11, 2010 1:36 p.m. EDT

— The state Division of Motor Vehicles will review how suppliers of ignition-interlock systems within North Carolina are certified because of concerns about the process, DMV Commissioner Mike Robertson said Tuesday.

Robertson halted the bidding for the ignition locks in March because the independent lab responsible for testing the devices as part of the certification process for vendors didn't test some locks last year.

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.

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.

"The interlock program is important to the safety of the motoring public and should be established in a fair and open manner," Robertson said in a statement issued Tuesday.

He said he has formed a panel of experts from DMV and other government agencies to study the program and recommend changes to the certification process. The group also will study interlock technology used in other states and foreign countries, he said.

"North Carolina not only wants the best technology reasonably available, but we also would like to encourage competition in the open market," he said.

By some estimates, the North Carolina market for the ignition-interlock systems is worth $10 million a year.