Originally created 08/31/02

Personal sobriety tests help driver make right decision



WASHINGTON -- At highway checkpoints this Labor Day weekend, Colorado state police officers will be handing out tickets as well as devices drivers can use to measure their blood-alcohol content.

"We're hoping we will give people an additional tool that will help make the decision not to drive after drinking," said Capt. Jim Wolfinbarger of the Colorado State Patrol. "Traditionally, thousands of times a year, people are making poor decisions. If they're fortunate, they'll make it home. If they're unfortunate, they'll get arrested. If it's a tragedy, they'll kill somebody."

Federal statistics showed the number of people killed in alcohol-related crashes rose from 17,380 in 2000 to 17,448 in 2001, the first increase in five years.

Police see the Guardian Angel Personal Alcohol Test they are distributing in Colorado as a weapon against drunken driving. It is among several products on the market that allow drivers to measure their blood-alcohol content and learn when they're approaching the legal limit, 0.08 percent in most states.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has not taken a position on Guardian Angel. But MADD President Wendy Hamilton is concerned some people will feel they can have a few drinks and get behind the wheel as long as the device shows them below the legal limit.

"They'll be under the legal level but they're still going to be impaired," she said. "They can still go out and injure or kill some people. That's what we're afraid of."

The head of the National Commission Against Drunk Driving, a nonprofit advocacy group pushing for stronger anti-drunken driving laws, said the devices help motorists make intelligent decisions.

"When it comes to personal responsibility, ignorance is not the answer," John Moulden said. "People need to understand what their personal blood-alcohol limits are and they need to have the information so they can at least make a responsible decision before they get impaired."

The Guardian Angel device is a strip that is placed in the mouth for 10 seconds, then held to a "risk meter" which ranks alcohol content in saliva three ways - lower, higher or highest, which means blood-alcohol content is 0.08 or above. The product's package urges people not to drink and drive, warns that even some alcohol can impair judgment and includes a 1-800 number for taxis.

A package of four strips is available for less than $2 at various convenience stores, drug stores and supermarkets.

"It's a way to defuse that debate for car keys at the end of the evening," Guardian Angel vice president Jeff Scult said. "This is not a tool to green-light drinking and driving and drink up to the limit. This is to help people become educated to make the right decision not to drive."

Another product, the Breath Alcohol Check by Akers Biosciences, is a small tube filled with crystals. A person blows into it for 12 seconds. Blood-alcohol content is determined by how many of the crystals change color.

It has been sold to police departments and commercial truckers and trucking companies for about two years. The product also is available to consumers in some European countries. The company hopes to begin selling it in the United States early next year, according to Akers chief financial officer Paul Freedman. The price is expected to be about $10 for a package of three.

In addition, hand-held digital monitors that calculate blood-alcohol content can be purchased for around $90-$100 at specialty retail stores.

But Guardian Angel is getting the widest distribution. Police in 11 states and the District of Columbia have given the strips to bars, restaurants and motorists.

Besides Colorado, the other states distributing the strips include: Arizona, California, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

While not endorsing a particular product, the International Association of Chiefs of Police says it's good to have any device showing the effects of alcohol to a driver before he or she gets behind the wheel.

"Most people think you have a couple of drinks, no big deal, but you're really not fine," said North Miami Beach, Fla., Police Chief Bill Berger, president of the association. "This says you've got to think twice before you get in that car and drive."

On the Net:

Guardian Angel: http://www.guardianangel.com

National Commission Against Drunk Driving: http://www.ncadd.com

Mothers Against Drunk Driving: http://www.madd.org

Akers Biosciences: http://www.akerslaboratories.com