Montana State University

MSU students' business aims to keep drunken drivers off the roads

February 9, 2009 -- Anne Pettinger, MSU News Service


Big Sky Ignition Interlock grew out of a semester-long class project of five MSU business students. The Bozeman-based business will install, lease and maintain devices designed to prevent inebriated people from driving. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.    High-Res Available

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Gallatin County's roads may soon be safer thanks to a business that sprouted from a Montana State University classroom.

Big Sky Ignition Interlock grew out of a semester-long class project of five MSU business students. The Bozeman-based business will install, lease and maintain devices designed to prevent inebriated people from driving.

Ignition interlock devices require drivers to blow into the device before starting their cars. If the person is sober, the device allows the car to start. If the device registers a blood-alcohol concentration over the legal limit, the ignition remains locked.

Big Sky Ignition Interlock's clients will pay a $150 installation fee for leasing an ignition interlock device, which also covers the cost of the removing the device. The monthly fee -- which includes recalibration each month and service calls -- is about $65.

MSU senior management student Eric Albright brought the idea to his teammates in management 462, an entrepreneurship class taught by Joe Long during the fall semester. He got the idea for the business after listening to a worker for the Gallatin County DUI Task Force talk about interlock devices in another class about drugs in modern society, Albright said.

Albright, 39, had experience dealing with the problem of drunken driving in Gallatin County after serving nine years as a Bozeman police officer. He patrolled for impaired drivers, administered Breathalyzer tests and testified in court on DUI cases.

Previously, no place in Bozeman installed or maintained breath alcohol ignition interlock instruments, Albright said. Out of four locations for such businesses in Montana, he said the closest was located in Billings.

Students developing the business plan talked with judges and learned that more than 80 people were sentenced to use ignition interlock devices over the past half year in Bozeman. More than 7,000 people were arrested in Montana in 2007 for alcohol impairment while driving, with 1,000 of those arrests occurring in Gallatin County, their research showed.

Though the business plan was a class project, Albright realized it had real potential.

"This device is designed for a person who made a mistake, who didn't know (his or her blood alcohol concentration), and who wants to make it right," Albright said.

The ignition interlock devices are an aggressive and proactive way of addressing the problem of drunk driving without restricting offenders' rights too heavily, said Dawnette Osen, another student who worked on the development of the business plan along with Albright and MSU students Terrance Foster, Hannah Pauli and Patrick Tillisch, added that.

"This is a good thing," said Osen, 22. "It keeps (offenders') licenses from being revoked. We don't want to keep people from driving. This just lets them drive legally."

They expect many of their clients will be court-ordered to use the ignition interlock devices, but Osen and Albright say the ignition interlock system is a good preventative step for a voluntary population, too.

"This instrument tells you what your blood alcohol concentration is, and most people don't know that," Albright said. "Many people don't know they're past the legal limit when they get behind the wheel."

Albright also anticipates the devices might give parents some peace of mind when their teenaged kids begin driving.

"I'd like to supply parents with a proactive tool for keeping their children safe," Albright said.

Albright and Osen, who both grew up in Bozeman, said they felt especially good about developing a business that can help make their home community a better place.

"It's not only a viable business, it's a socially responsible business," Osen said.

"I just want it to be successful because I think it can have such great, positive impacts for the community," Albright added.

The business is up and running. For more information on the students' business, visit http://www.bsiimt.com.

Eric Albright, (406) 579-0321 or len.albright@myportal.montana.edu; or Dawnette Osen, dawnette.osen@gmail.com