By Molly Snyder – Senior Writing, OnMilwaukee.com
Published Nov. 13, 2013 at 5:24 a.m.
Because drunk driving is extremely prevalent in American culture – about 12,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths every year – making the choice not to drive a vehicle after over-consuming alcohol is more important than ever.
This is why bar owners across the country are installing IntoxBox, a freestanding, digital breathalyzer that reads a person’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) and helps determine if he or she is safe behind the wheel.
IntoxBox uses the same sensor used in court-ordered ignition interlock systems to ensure accuracy. It is illegal to drive with a BAC above .08 percent; however, drunk driving accidents can and do occur when a person drives with a lower content.
The IntoxBox was invented in 2008 by Ryan Walden, who is now 25 and lives in Minneapolis, when he was in college in Iowa and a friend got a DUI.
“I believe a lot of people out there are unknowingly driving while over the legal limit. Without a resource like this, at the point of decision, it’s very difficult for someone to know if they are in compliance with the drinking and driving laws,” says Walden.
IntoxBox is manufactured in Winona, Minn., and there are more than 20 bars in the Twin Cities currently using the IntoxBox. About 50 more have been installed throughout the United States so far.
Yesterday, Carrie Wisniewski, co-owner of Redbar, had Wisconsin’s first IntoxBox installed at her St. Francis bar. The company’s operations manager, David Kreitzer, says his goal is to install 15 more in Milwaukee and Madison this month.
“This is a privatized solution to a serious social problem,” says Kreitzer. “It doesn’t cost the bar anything to get one and the IntoxBox is highly accurate and calibrated regularly.”
The cost to breathalyze is $2. If 50 people or more use it per month the price goes down to $1, and Wisniewski says her bartenders will issue $2 to anyone who does not have cash on hand but is concerned about their BAC.
The user blows into the machine with a provided straw, follows a few screen prompts and gets their BAC results within two minutes.
If their BAC is .08 or higher, a message appears on the screen suggesting he or she ask the bartender for a voucher for a free cab ride home. People who blow below a .08 can also request a voucher if they still feel uneasy about driving.
“You can’t hail a cab in the city and we don’t have a rail system and busses don’t run at bar time, so people think they have to drink and drive, but they don’t,” says Wisniewski.
Not all bars with IntoxBoxes offer cab vouchers, but this is important to Wisniewski. She purchased the vouchers through the Tavern League of Wisconsin’s Safe Ride Program for $5 each and they can be redeemed for up to a $20 cab ride. They also cover the ride back to the bar the next morning to retrieve a parked vehicle.
American United Taxi and Franklin Cab Company are the two companies partnered with the program. The bartender can call either service and have a cab dispatched immediately.
Although hundreds of local bar owners are members of the Tavern League, few are using the Safe Ride Program, according to Wisniewski.
“It’s a really cool program,” says Wisniewski. “If I save one life because I installed a breathlyzer and bought a couple of $5 vouchers it is totally worth it.”
Wisniewski was recently elected as one of 10 directors for the Tavern League of Wisconsin and will be sworn in on December 9.
She urged the league to invite IntoxBox to a meeting after reading about the system online. Some members were concerned about the amount of space it takes up.
“It’s almost the size of a jukebox, so finding the space for some might be kind of tricky, but I think it’s really important,” she says.
Although some drinkers will use the IntoxBox as a gimmick and blow just for the fun of it, Wisniewski believes it will be taken seriously for the most part.
“And it shows the police and the city that we are trying to be responsible bar owners,” she says. “We all make mistakes and I’m not here to judge people, but if I can do a small part to help people avoid a mistake then I’m all for it.”