November 25, 2006 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
Recently I was at a fraternity party, where before anyone was allowed to drive home, they had to blow into a small breathalyzer. Those who registered over a certain limit were told to hand their car keys to someone who blew a much lower number, and everyone made it home safely. I think that’s a great idea, and would appreciate your suggestions and recommendations that I can pass along to my fraternity friends here at Cal State Fresno. Thanks, Tommy Lee.
California State University at Fresno, like universities with any fraternity or sorority presence, has had its share of alcohol-related problems, and banned one frat early in 2006 for alcohol violations.
Let’s face it, at college, booze and “Greeks” (more commonly known as fraternities) go hand in hand. Even at schools with a “dry” policy, college students are going to drink, with little regard for age or other legal consequences. There is no way to beat ’em, but there is a way of attempting to assure some degree of safety, and that could very well be through the use of a device that measures the percentage of alcohol in a person’s blood.
Enter the personal breathalyzer
“It’s not just for the obvious – measurement of breath alcohol levels before getting into a car – but once these devices came down in price dramatically, their uses expanded into other important areas,” Keith Nothacker told me recently. He is the CEO of San Francisco based KHN Solutions, one of America’s largest distributors of alcohol measurement devices.
“At one time only law enforcement or private industry could afford to buy a Breathalyzer, and they were highly complex, fairly temperamental devices. But in the past few years, new technology has brought down the size and cost, and now anyone can own an accurate breathalyzer for less than $100. This means that virtually any homeowner, parent, or employer can have a device ready to use in seconds should the need arise,” he told me.
In preparation for this story, I was loaned two of the products KHN Solutions sells, and had a chance to test them in the real world, at a friend’s wedding. “Would you mind blowing into this little white tube?” I asked friends who had consumed alcohol during the evening. “Now, you know that I am going to get a positive reading, but just how high do you think the numbers are going to go?” I asked.
You don’t know how high is high
“It is virtually impossible to know exactly what your blood alcohol level is at any given time without some form of test,” Keith commented. “That’s why, if you drink, or serve alcoholic beverages to your friends to any considerable extent, those little red numbers on a personal breathalyzer that say Give Me the Keys can be highly persuasive,” he added.
And Keith is absolutely right. Of the several people I tested, not a single person had any idea what their real BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) was. In more than one instance, the look on our friends faces was close to, “You have got to be kidding! But I feel fine!” They were close to .08, and, “given the fact that alcohol is absorbed more slowly with food, there is a real possibility that their level could have continued to climb over .08, making them clearly driving over the limit.” Keith commented.
More than to avoid the slammer
There are other uses for a breathalyzer, and one that I found especially touching was the case of a woman who had problems with alcohol and was facing the loss of visitation rights with her children.
“We sold a professional unit that costs nearly $1,000 to a customer who needed to show that she was not consuming alcohol prior to or during visitation weekends with her kids. It was a nasty divorce and she had spent time in jail for DUI, but loved her children. Since she could not get law enforcement to test her, it was agreed that, in the presence of an agreed witness, she would test and the machine would automatically print out the results, time and date stamped,” Keith related.
Other applications for these devices are fairly obvious. Screening on the job site, a little check of son or daughter’s claim of sobriety, or, “as entertainment. You would be surprised at how often these are purchased and become quite an attention grabber at parties. Obviously, anything that helps to encourage responsible drinking among people who are going to consume alcohol is a good thing, and so there is that’s aspect as well,” Keith concluded.
I tested two of the products KHN sells, one the consumer version, and a professional unit costing around $500. They both were easy to operate, and left every user with a, you will pardon the pun, sobering feeling.
“I had no idea that I have probably driven well over that .08 level, legally under the influence, many times before,” said one of our friends at the wedding. “I was lucky that nothing happened. And nothing will, in the future.”
As I always do with any product tested, Keith will get his breathalysers returned, and then I am going to buy one. You can find his company’s Web site at www.khnsolutions.com.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.