CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) – A convicted drunk driver with asthma sued Missouri, claiming it violated his civil rights because he can’t blow hard enough to operate the ignition interlock system it made him install in his car.
Homer Reed sued the Missouri Department of Revenue in St. Louis County Circuit Court on Feb. 4.
Reed, 72, claims his severe asthma makes him too short of breath to operate the system, which measures blood alcohol content and can prevent a vehicle from starting.
Reed’s driver’s license was suspended for 10 years in 1999. His driving record shows he was convicted of excessive blood alcohol content on Nov. 3, 1998. His license was suspended in 1992 for another drunk-driving related offense, according to court records.
Reed’s license was reinstated in 2013 with the ignition interlock system a condition of the reinstatement. But Reed says he cannot operate the system due to his asthma.
After Reed sent a doctor’s affidavit to the Department of Revenue about his condition, Missouri deemed Reed eligible for an ignition interlock system that required a lower volume of breath. But Reed says he couldn’t operate it either.
“I don’t have asthma and I drove his vehicle and two or three times,” Reed’s attorney, Matthew Singer, told Courthouse News. “I wasn’t able to blow hard enough to pass it two times.”
Singer said the ignition system randomly requires the driver to blow into it while the driver is operating the vehicle. If the driver doesn’t blow into the system within a certain time, the vehicle automatically shuts off.
Singer claims that Reed’s asthma could cause his vehicle to shut down in traffic, creating a public safety concern.
“Imagine being on the highway at winter time and it goes off and Reed can’t breathe hard enough because of the cold,” Singer told Courthouse News. “How can he stay warm if the vehicle shuts off and strands him on the side of the road?”
Reed claims in the complaint that he contacted the state, but Department of Revenue representatives told him the system would not be adjusted and would not discuss accommodating his disability.
On Feb. 19, 2014, Reed says, he sent a letter to the state requesting a meeting to discuss accommodations, but he received no reply.
Singer said other options are available, including an ankle bracelet that can measure blood alcohol content. He claims the Department of Revenue won’t respond because the ignition systems are required for only 6 months and instead of responding to public need, the department simply ignores the complaints.
“Right now, the DOR’s response is to ignore you until you go away,” Singer said.
Reed claims that failure to accommodate his asthma violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. He says that the ignition interlock system is not reasonably directed to fulfill its intended purpose because it risks aggravating his asthma and disabling his vehicle in traffic, and the state’s goal can be achieved in a less restrictive manner.
Reed asks the court to order Missouri to accommodate him with the ignition interlock device and to modify its policies to ensure that similarly disabled persons are not discriminated against.
He also seeks reimbursement of the money he spent on the ignition system, since it basically rendered his vehicle useless.
Singer estimates the Reed has spent $4,000 to $5,000 for the system and legal fees. Not only did Reed have to pay to have the system installed, but Singer says he had to pay for monthly recalibrations. Failure to do so would have resulted in his license being suspended again.
Reed is now past the 6-month requirement for the system, but Singer says his client wants to make sure future residents with similar disabilities are accommodated.
The Department of Revenue did not respond to a request for comment.
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