Local bargoers and barkeepers have a new tool to tell when enough is enough.
An electronic portable breath alcohol tester has debuted in at least one Post Falls establishment, the Slab Inn, allowing patrons to feed a dollar into the blood-alcohol tester, which stands as tall as a typical vending machine, for a quick check on their blood alcohol content. With more than 13,000 Americans killed every year in drunken driving-related accidents and 97 of the 259 fatal crashes in Idaho in 2007 alcohol-related, the machines are designed to help cut down on the number of DUIs wherever they are in use.
“It is a good tool to have,” said Deborah Berlin, who co-owns, along with her husband Randy, the Slab Inn, a River City staple that’s hosted countless country jamborees and live shows through the years. “If you have a question about whether someone should be driving or not, the machine can quickly answer it.”
The Alcohol Alert breath analyzers, unique from similar machines in use across the Inland Northwest in that they are calibrated every three months to assure accurate readings, were recently introduced to the area by Wade Anton. Since forming his own company last year, Anton Industries, and becoming the regional distributor of the $3,300 coin-operated instrument, the Post Falls resident has placed one of the three testing devices he’s purchased in a local establishment. So far, the Alcohol Alert has measured the blood-alcohol levels of about 250 patrons since it was installed on Dec. 10.
And even though many people will view the machines as novelty items, as long as they are put to use, they’ll help educate the public, Anton said.
“I was looking for a business to get into and I enjoy helping people. With the amount of drunk-driving issues in the state, and in every state throughout the U.S., I thought it was a good idea,” said Anton, about his motivation behind the business venture. “My opinion is that anytime you are blowing into the machine, you are being educated. No one knows what their [blood alcohol content] is until they are getting pulled over on the side of the road. For a dollar – after they’ve had a couple drinks – they can see where they’re at.”
And, Randy Berlin continued, “A lot of people will use it and say, ‘OK, it’s time to call a cab.’ It’s important for us to get our customers home safe.”
Touted as intervention at the point of consumption, the easy-to-use machines display a digital blood alcohol-level reading after a patron blows through a straw into a small slot, with a verbal warning that follows even if trace amounts of alcohol are detected. The readings range from white, where no alcohol is detected, up to red, which is at or above the legal limit in Idaho of .08.
“Do not drive, you are legally intoxicated!” the breathalyzer proclaims at the red level.
For Anton, he views his role as distributor of the Arizona-based KeRo Corp.’s Alcohol Alert system, which has been making the machines for almost 20 years, as a personal responsibility. The 42-year-old is a recovering alcoholic, and he said he’s had his share of alcohol-related run-ins with the law.
“I’m 42 now; for 16 of those years I spent overindulging in alcohol,” Anton explained, adding that he has been pulled over in the past on a few occasions while under the influence. “I am a recovering alcoholic, so this is a way to give back. If there was a machine like this when I was drinking through the years, I think I wouldn’t have driven drunk.”
And as drunken driving laws stiffen around the country, and the criminal penalties for drinking and getting behind the wheel becoming more severe, the breath machines can act as an important point of intervention. “I think it creates customer awareness,” Randy Berlin said.
Above that, though, “it shows the public that you are a responsible business owner,” Anton said. “It shows they care about their customers.”
At the Slab Inn, almost all of their drinking customers are part of an easy-going and responsible group, Randy Berlin said. But, he continued, “that other 10 percent are the ones you have to keep an eye on.”
To that end, the breath machines will hopefully deter any inebriated patrons from getting behind the wheel, the owners said. When asked whether they think the testing devices will catch on in other establishments, Deborah Berlin said, “I think it should, because it gives the bar owner the OK to say ‘It’s time for a cab.’ I just can’t think of anything negative about it.”