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Could portable breathalyzers prevent DUIs?

A pilot program in Colorado aims to prevent subsequent DUI arrests among those who've already been convicted of drunk driving. The initiative provides portable breathalyzers for personal use, ideally before people climb behind the wheel of a vehicle and risk arrest or a crash.

The program aimed to outfit approximately 200 people with prior DUI convictions with portable breathalyzer devices. But officials actually distributed nearly 500 machines to begin the initiative. These portable BACtrack devices allow users to quickly and easily (after some training) obtain a fairly accurate blood alcohol content reading prior to getting behind the wheel of a car.

Since trained law enforcement professionals don't administer the tests, the results are not admissible in court as evidence. They are informative nonetheless. They provide data about:

  • Alcohol consumption patterns
  • Times of day and year for highest risk for DUI offenses
  • Consistency of use
  • Deterrence rates (whether seeing a reading of .08 on a portable breathalyzer would prevent someone from driving)

In addition, it is possible that use of these devices - even in an informal way - by bar owners or party hosts might prevent drunk driving among people who haven't had a previous conviction. The program has only just begun in Colorado, so only time will tell if it actually has an impact on decreasing DUI recidivism, lowering the number of drunk driving-related crashes or lessening the reliance on things like ignition interlock devices to get people back on the road safely.

There are, as of yet, no publicly available plans to create a similar program here in Tennessee. It will be interesting to see, however, what impact the program has elsewhere and whether Tennessee will consider something similar in the future.

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