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Should the city use a mobile blood-alcohol testing van when arresting drunken drivers?

Asked at Signs of Life, 722 Mass. on December 28, 2004

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Photo of Ben Harris

“It seems like an OK idea, but I don’t think that it’s really necessary. I thought there were a lot easier ways to check.”

Photo of Lori Bettes

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea. It would prevent drunk driving because they know that there is no way to talk their way out of it or avoid the test.”

Photo of Seth Toebben

“It sounds reasonable. But before I was a Christian, I was busted for smoking pot while driving with some friends, and they did nothing. So if they are serious about using it, then sure.”

Photo of Kari Dorow

“Oh yeah, definitely. Anything to catch drunk drivers and keep them off the streets of Lawrence.”


ive_got_my_ascot_n_my_dickie 13 years, 3 months ago

I think it's a good idea, depending on the cost. Having a mobile testing unit will free-up a lot of time for the officers and allow them to work more efficiently. When I lived in Cleveland, the CPD had the "BAT-Mobile" (Blood Alcohol Testing Mobile). They kept a lot of drunks off the road. Lawrence is a small enough city where there's no excuse to drunk drive. A $7 cab ride will take you anywhere in the city, or you could just walk home.

badger 13 years, 3 months ago

It sounds like it's a pretty efficient use of funds, actually. If it shortens the amount of time the cops have to spend on each person who fails the field sobriety test, that means that they don't have to have as many officers dealing with drunks, and that they can handle other problems, and staffing coverage, more effectively--or it means they can go catch more drunks.

I don't agree that it will deter drunk driving. Honestly, I think that very few people actually say to themselves, "Well, I'm too drunk to drive, but I probably won't get caught." I think more of them say, "Oh, I've had a couple of drinks, but I'm totally OK to drive."

I just think it'll result in cops spending less time on each individual drunk or potentially drunk driver, and being able to do their jobs better, and I'm good with that. I think we tend to spend a lot of money on cops that doesn't actually help them, so I'm kind of glad to see some money spent that may actually be effectively spent.

jonas 13 years, 3 months ago

It seems, on the surface, like a good idea, but I wonder if it will be very practically effective. If there was only one unit, I don't see how it will ever keep up with the volume of potential drunk drivers that would come out on a typical weekend night. Unless it just gets called to a scene for potential use, like a shuttle or something, it won't be very effective simply because it can only process one person, or at least one scene, at a time.

But then, I haven't read the referenced article, so I don't know the logistics yet.

I can't help but think that if they do it, they should make it look like Ecto1, the car from the ghostbusters.

remember_username 13 years, 3 months ago

Seems like a good idea. After reading the article it is clear it will be more reliable and faster.

When LPD gets the mobile unit, what about donating those hand held units the officers carry to the local watering holes? They could be used to settle the inevitable argument that ensues when a good friend says "give me your keys and I'll take you home - you're unable to drive". Every time I've ever had a friend say that to me I've always felt they were wrong and every time I've been designated sober person the tipsy person is always argued with me. We could just belly up to the bar, blow in the little thingy, and settle it then and there.

badger 13 years, 3 months ago

The article seemed to imply that its incorporation would cut down on the current time for someone who fails a field sobriety test, which is roughly two hours to make the stop, administer the field sobriety test, take the person to the jail, search him, fill out paperwork to process him in, perform the breathalyzer test, determine if he is really impaired, and either process the offender or return the not-guilty party to the vehicle (both of which probably involve paperwork). I'm betting that the original officer has to accompany the potential offender through the entire process or risk issues with the court process. That means that for that entire two hours, one officer is essentially off the streets, and coverage has to be arranged so that there are enough police available to respond to other calls during high-risk times, like when bars close or games are ending, or New Year's Eve.

I'm thinking that the mobile unit could be kept at a relatively central location, or simply be active and on patrol from midnight to 2 am, or whatever is determined to be the most efficient, and when a cop makes a stop and thinks he's going to have to administer a field sobriety test, the mobile unit can head that way in case the individual fails the test and merits a breathalyzer test. Even if there were a number of calls, I imagine that it would take less time for each one. And if the mobile unit were backed up and it would take longer than the previous two hours, or if the driver objected to the mobile unit, the option of going to the jail for the test would still be available.

On one hand, I like the idea of offering to donate the current hand held units to local bars. In theory, it would offer already responsible people an opportunity to confirm whether or not they're OK. In practice, I think it would result in a lot more liability for bar owners, because they'd have to ensure that the breathalyzers were being used correctly (which is, I guess, harder than it looks, because if you don't blow hard enough, or cough, or a number of other things, you can get wrong results), and if someone got hurt or arrested, he could sue the bar (because people are stupid like that) for providing him a faulty means to check his alcohol level.

I'd sure love it if we could give people the means to make sure they're acting in a safe manner without being criminally or legally liable if those means weren't used correctly. Unfortunately, I don't think we're adult enough for that yet.

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