In Depth: In-bar, pre-car breath test - KMSP-TV

In Depth: In-bar, pre-car breath test

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The next time you go drinking at a local bar, you maybe able to measure your breath alcohol content before getting behind the wheel thanks to a Minnesota-made device that is similar to what a police officer would use when pulling over a suspected drunken driver.

Bars around the Twin Cities are installing new devices called IntoxBox, and the young developers at the local company say the machines are extremely accurate when measuring blood alcohol levels.

Patrons who have been drinking can use the machines to test their blood alcohol levels before deciding to drive. They simply pay a small fee, follow the screen prompts, blow into the machine with a straw and get their BAC results in less then 2 minutes.

"We want to make sure people make wise choices when they walk out the door," said Phil Weber, owner of the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park.

The Park Tavern is one of 19 Twin Cities bars to install an IntoxBox, and Weber said he thinks it's the most accurate BAC self-test on the market.

Since installing it, he's noticed more customers finding other ways home. How does he know? Sunday morning usually dawns with a truckload of cars from the evening before. The proof is still sitting in the parking lot -- and he likes that.

"I don't want anyone to leave here and hurt themselves," said Weber. "You get picked up for a DUI and it's a major, major problem."

Ryan Walden, 24, created the IntoxBox three years ago after one of his close friends got picked up on a DUI and had no idea he was over the limit.

"It occurred to me there are probably a lot of people in this position," said Walden.

The Cornell College grad oversees the daily workings of the company, which -- in addition to Minnesota -- has about 50 IntoxBoxes in bars across 15 states.

All the units are made at a plant in Winona, Minn. That's just a couple hours away from the company's Twin Cities offices. Walden told FOX 9 News he wanted to keep production local because, when you're measuring something that can make the difference between life and death on the road, he says it has to be accurate.

"You really don't want this, let's say, in the hands of Chinese manufacturing company. You want it to be close by so you can make sure the product you're putting out is high quality," said Walden, who grew up in Edina.

FOX 9 News wanted to do an informal test of the machine. We gathered four volunteers from the station's work pool and invited two working professionals who heard about the test from Minnesotans for Safe Driving. All our volunteers were over 21, had designated drivers to get them home after the test and agreed to drink to at least the .08 level.

We served them drinks and tested them the with the IntoxBox and a portable breath test given out by an officer from the Eden Prairie Police Department. The department does not endorse IntoxBox. Overall, the commercial machine was accurate. It basically rounded up a hundredth of a point from the police PBT.

The comparative test results are as follows:

  • Dan's IntoxBox reading was .12; PBT reading: .103
  • Leif's IntoxBox reading came to .12; PBT reading: .117
  • Christina blew a .10 on the IntoxBox; PBT reading: .098
  • Marisa got a .13 from the IntoxBox; PBT reading: .114
  • Amanda had a .17 on the IntoxBox; PBT reading: .161
  • Jodie registered a .08 IntoxBox reading; PBT reading: .077

"It's just an extra blanket of security for people thinking about driving home," said Walden.

Walden said it's analogous to a speedometer, saying people would not know how fast they are going if they didn't have something reading their speed of their vehicles.

According to Minnesotans for Safe Driving, other bar breathalyzers just haven't been reliable. The local safety group credits new technology for making this device worthy of its endorsement.

"Most people who kill are first-time offenders, and most people are between .08 and .10. They are not falling down drunk. They make a terrible mistake and terrible things happen," said Jon Cummings.

The group also likes that screen prompts on the machine warn against the dangers of driving while intoxicated, and it warns users that their BAC can rise even after they finished drinking.

Minnesota's chapter of Mother's Against Drunk Driving says the device is interesting and credits any group that wants to deter people from driving drunk, but it is not endorsing the IntoxBox or any other device like it. They argue that errors could happen and could lead to someone getting behind the wheel with a false sense of security even though they might be over the legal limit.

"How do you know it's is really working, as far as self calibration? If it was not damaged when it was used, and if you are actually using it properly?" asked Brenda Thomas, executive director of Minnesota's office.

Walden says his team completes regular maintenance on its machines to stop that from happening -- and when asked if he worries about liability if someone drives while legally intoxicated after using the machine, Walden responded: "There is a difference between a self test and a controlled test in the eyes of the law, and the IntoxBox is a self test like any other hand-held breathalyzer. So, there is a protection."

"Overall, if someone is questioning whether or not they are too impaired to drive, then they just shouldn't drive," said Thomas.

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