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Portable breathalyzers: How well do they work?

Last summer we took note of a pilot program in another state in which people with previous DUI convictions were given portable devices to test their own breath for alcohol content.

The Colorado Department of Transportation and a maker of personal breathalyzers, collaborated on the program. Nearly 500 devices were given away, in the hope of preventing repeat DUI offenses.

The program was called "Before You Go, Know" and ran for six weeks. Several months later, does it appear to be working?

Not surprisingly, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) says the program worked. The department followed up with each of the 475 people in the program, to assess whether using a personal breath-testing device reduced the risk of driving impaired.

CDOT asked people in the program to answer questions in a survey, both before and after the program. Before they participated in the program, 37 percent of the people said they were confident in being able to drive despite having a few drinks. After being in the program, the percent of drivers expressing such confidence declined to 26 percent.

Did people actually use the portable breathalyzers? In the follow-up survey, 75 percent of participants said they did.

This was not a comprehensive study, but instead relied on two simple surveys. Nonetheless, CDOT is planning to take further steps to promote use of portable breathalyzers.

CDOT would like treatment providers to recommend the devices to people who are getting alcohol addiction treatment. CDOT also encourages people who received the breathalyzers through the pilot program to keep using them.

Time will tell how many people will make use of portable breathalyzers, in Colorado, Tennessee or any other state. It is notable, however, that such devices are now becoming available to help people gain a better understanding of how alcohol affects them.

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