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SALT LAKE CITY — Drinkers don't always know when they've had too much alcohol to get behind the wheel, but a couple of Utah businessmen think an affordable, disposable breathalyzer, which removes questions about sobriety, could reduce DUI crashes and fatalities.
"It's a one time use, disposable breathalyzer," said Rob Rogers, the managing director for Safe & Sound breathalyzer in the United States. It also only costs $5 compared to electronic models that can cost well over $100.
"They're selling it to law enforcement, and governments because of its accuracy," Rogers said of the breathalyzer that has been on the market in Europe for years, and is now cleared by the FDA in the U.S.
David Millet, a volunteer who was not driving, agreed to test the breathalyzer for us at Aristo's restaurant in Salt Lake City.
"I can feel a little bit of a slight buzz," he said after drinking two, large beers in 45 minutes on an empty stomach.
To take the test, he blew into a one liter plastic bag until it was full. He attached a short cylinder filled with yellow crystals to the mouthpiece on the bag. Then, he emptied the bag through the cylinder.
"You push the two ends together," said Rogers, holding the cylinder. "That activates these crystals. If there's alcohol in the system, these crystals will turn from yellow to green."
A black line on the small cylinder indicates .08 blood alcohol content, the legal limit in most U.S. states.
Our volunteer turned the crystals green: he tested over the limit. Millet said he likes the breathalyzer. He believes it gives him a clear answer on whether he's sober enough to drive.
"It doesn't leave you up to deciding whatsoever," he said.
You really don't know how much alcohol is in your system. So, you test it. It's a quick and shocking reality when you actually do.
–Rob Rogers, managing director for Safe & Sound breathalyzer in the U.S.
Millet said the results surprised him. In the past, he might have gotten behind the wheel after two beer during a meal.
"You really don't know how much alcohol is in your system," he said. "So, you test it. It's a quick and shocking reality when you actually do."
The breathalyzer is certified internationally, and has been used in Europe for 33 years. The product boasts more than 400 million units sold.
In France, the government liked the idea of quick and easy testing so much, it passed a law two years ago that requires drivers to have breathalyzers in their cars.
In a U.S. Department of Transportation survey, 8 percent of American drivers admitted to driving in the last year when they thought they were over the legal blood alcohol content limit. Nearly two-thirds, 63 percent, like the idea of devices that promote safe driving. Those numbers suggest Americans might be interested in that kind of product.
"When it's staring you in the face and saying you are over the .08 limit, it absolutely has an impact," said Rogers, who recently chose not to drive after leaving a restaurant with his wife, and taking a breathalyzer test before starting the car.
The Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police has endorsed it, and law enforcement there is using the Safe & Sound breathalyzer to show probable cause in DUI cases.
Utah Highway Patrol said Tuesday they would like to test it. Sgt. Chris Newlin said UHP is wary of any product that may give a driver a false sense of security when it comes to their ability to drive, even after a small amount of alcohol. He pointed out that you do not have to register .08 blood alcohol content to be impaired in Utah.
The Safe & Sound breathalyzer states on its instructions: "You are liable if you drive after drinking." In their promotional materials, the company points out "even if someone uses the breathalyzer to test their blood alcohol and the device registers a false negative, the user has been put on notice that driving after any drinking makes them liable." The company "emphasizes that it is never safe to drink and drive."
Rogers said restaurants and bars will start carrying the breathalyzers across the country soon and here in Utah. In the next six months, he said, Utahns will be able to buy them in grocery stores, Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven.