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Winston Armani, Deseret News
A Utah businessman is working to import a disposable breathalyzer that has been on the market in Europe for years and is now cleared by the FDA in the U.S.
They're selling it to law enforcement and governments because of its accuracy. —Rob Rogers

SALT LAKE CITY — A couple of Utah businessmen say an affordable, disposable breathalyzer that removes questions about sobriety could reduce DUI crashes and fatalities.

"It's a one-time use, disposable breathalyzer," said Rob Rogers, the managing director for Safe & Sound breathalyzer in the United States.

The device costs only $5, compared with electronic models that can cost more than $100.

"They're selling it to law enforcement and governments because of its accuracy," Rogers said of the breathalyzer that has been on the market in Europe for years and is now cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

David Millet, a volunteer who was not driving, agreed to test the breathalyzer at Aristo's restaurant in Salt Lake City.

"I can feel a little bit of a slight buzz," he said after drinking two large beers in 45 minutes on an empty stomach.

To take the test, Millet blew into a 1-liter plastic bag until it was full. He attached a short cylinder filled with yellow crystals to the mouthpiece on the bag. Then he emptied the bag through the cylinder.

"You push the two ends together," said Rogers, holding the cylinder. "That activates these crystals. If there's alcohol in the system, these crystals will turn from yellow to green."

A black line on the small cylinder indicates a 0.08 blood alcohol content, the legal limit in Utah and most U.S. states.

Millet turned the crystals green, testing over the limit.

Millet said he likes the breathalyzer and believes it gives him a clear answer on whether he's sober enough to drive.

"It doesn't leave you up to deciding whatsoever," he said.

Millet said the results surprised him. In the past, he might have gotten behind the wheel after two beers during a meal.

"You really don't know how much alcohol is in your system," Millet said. "So you test it. It's a quick and shocking reality when you actually do."

The breathalyzer is certified internationally and has been used in Europe for 33 years. The product boasts more than 400 million units sold.

In France, the government liked the idea of quick and easy testing so much that it passed a law two years ago that requires drivers to have breathalyzers in their cars.

In a U.S. Department of Transportation survey, 8 percent of American drivers admitted to driving in the past year when they thought they were over the legal blood alcohol content limit.

Nearly two-thirds, 63 percent, like the idea of devices that promote safe driving. Those numbers suggest Americans might be interested in that kind of product.

"When it's staring you in the face and saying you are over the 0.08 limit, it absolutely has an impact," said Rogers, who recently chose not to drive after leaving a restaurant with his wife and taking a breathalyzer test before starting the car.

The Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police has endorsed the breahtalyzer, and law enforcers there are using the device to show probable cause in DUI cases.

The Utah Highway Patrol said Tuesday it would like to test the Safe & Sound breathalyzer. Sgt. Chris Newlin said law enforcement is wary of any product that may give any driver a false sense of security when it comes to their ability to drive after even a small amount of alcohol.

Newlin pointed out that drivers do not have to register a 0.08 blood alcohol content to be impaired in Utah.

The Safe & Sound breathalyzer states on its instructions: "You are liable if you drive after drinking." In its promotional materials, the company points out "even if someone uses the breathalyzer to test their blood-alcohol (level) and the device registers a false negative, the user has been put on notice that driving after any drinking makes them liable."

The company "emphasizes that it is never safe to drink and drive."

Rogers said restaurants and bars soon will start carrying the breathalyzers in Utah and across the country. In the next six months, he said, people will be able to buy them in grocery stores, Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven stores.

Email: jboal@deseretnews.com