Can You Really Trust Bar Breathalyzers? We Put Them to the Test - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

2/9/06

Can You Really Trust Bar Breathalyzers? We Put Them to the Test

For many of us the situation is all too familiar: you go to a bar with friends have a couple drinks and you think you're okay to drive home, that is until you see the flashing blue lights in your rearview mirror. In 2005 Lubbock Police made 685 drunk driving arrests. However NewsChannel 11 has learned of a new technology gaining popularity in bars across the Hub City that could prevent you from getting behind the wheel after having drinks. NewsChannel 11's Kealey McIntire has details.

It's called the Depot Entertainment District because that's what we go there for. The legal limit for alcohol is .08 and often times you may be above that limit without knowing it, so you still find yourself asking, "Am I okay to drive home?" With a certain machine and 75 cents you could make a better decision.

It's a familiar situation you go out to have fun then at the end of the night you drive home. However, almost 99,000 people in the state made a bad decision when it came to closing time in 2004, that's how many people wound up in jail for driving while intoxicated.

Jake's Sports Cafe Manager Duff Ripley said, "It's a good tool to have in a restaurant/ bar."

A machine could have helped those people make a better decision. "It gives us a benchmark if you will of where the customers are," said Ripley.

He's talking about "Alcohol Alert," a retail breathalyzer designed to help you gauge how much you've had to drink.

Ripley said, "This helps them get an idea of where they stand. If they've had two or three drinks they come here and blow and realize, okay, that's probably my limit. I can't have anymore."

The process is simple you put in your money grab a straw and blow into the machine. If the white lights up that indicates a point zero and the red, that indicates you're legally drunk.

Jake's was the first in Lubbock to use the technology starting in August. Ripley said much to his surprise people use it all the time. "I mean it's a good thing, but it's kind of strange how you'll have three or four people clustered over there finding out where they are in their alcohol consumption."

NewsChannel 11 wanted to find out for ourselves just how popular it really is so we found a few guinea pigs.

We asked person number one, "How drunk do you think you are?"

"Not that drunk," he replied.

However, Alcohol Alert had a different opinion, he blew point two.

Guy number two was also more intoxicated than he thought.

After viewing their results they decide not to drive home.

"Oh, it'll definitely help somebody from driving home for sure," said one.

"Thank God for cab service," said the other.

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Jim Thompson is responsible for introducing Alcohol Alert to Lubbock. "My motive is pretty simple, to increase alcohol awareness. After you scrape as many people off the road as I did, it kind of opens your eyes."

Thompson made around 1,500 DUI arrests during his three years as a DUI Enforcement Officer in Colorado Springs. Almost everyone had the same response, "I didn't know I was legally drunk."

Thompson says, "It got me to thinking would there be anything that could be done aside from putting a police officer in every bar where a person could answer that question for themselves before they left."

Enter Alcohol Alert. Thompson now has 15 machines placed in various Lubbock bars, but the question is can you trust the results?

Thompson tests each machine with a machine three times a week for accuracy. It's the same machine used to test the hand held breathalyzers used by many police departments. Plus, Alcohol Alert manufacturers guarantee the machine will be accurate by plus or minus .02, the difference of one beer. However, you must follow directions. You have to wait at least five minutes after you finish a drink before you can blow otherwise it will not be accurate.

Thompson said it's the most accurate retail breathalyzer on the market and if you have any questions on whether you should drive he said you should trust the results. "The people who use this identify themselves as needing this type of testing and hopefully, that can have a positive influence on their driving decisions."

The last question we had is law enforcement. What does the TABC and the Lubbock Police Department think about the machines.

Lubbock Police Department Public Information Officer, Roy Bassett said, "I'm in favor of any tool helping someone make a better decision to drive."

However, Bassett said you shouldn't rely solely on the results when deciding whether to drive.  "Someone may actually blow under a .08, but because of other factors they may still be considered legally impaired. All that means is we make the case through other factors," stated Bassett.

Ripley, however, said, "It helps us out in numerous ways."

Bottom line Alcohol Alert has been popular with the bar owners. Ripley said it often happens where the staff thinks a customer is over the legal limit, they pay for the customer to blow and the results help the customer realize he really has had too much.

Ripley said, "That's, cut and dry. It's there, it's in stone. If they've had too much to drink, if it's red, you definitely need some help."

Again the cost is 75 cents and hopefully it could help you make a better decision. Also TABC and police officers can't use the machine's results against you. Breathalyzer results can only be used if the person giving the test and the machine are state certified and used in a controlled environment.

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