Patrons at some Amarillo watering holes can test their sobriety before they leave thanks to new breathalyzer machines, but authorities cautioned them not to rely on the results.

Amarilloan Dave Melton’s Texans Drink Smart company has installed about 50 Boozelator vending machines in bars here and in Lubbock, Midland, Odessa, Abilene, Arlington, Austin and San Angelo since last fall.

For $2, the machine dispenses a straw that the user can insert into a sensor then blow through for results.

A screen on the machine shows the user’s blood-alcohol level. Texas law sets the blood-alcohol cutoff for driving at .08 percent.

Melton places the machines into establishments free of charge and shares 25 percent of the revenue, which he said could be used to support a taxi-ride fund for intoxicated patrons.

The Boozelators’ 12-inch LCD screens display advertising when not in use, according to texans

Melton pitches the machines as another tool for bars and restaurants, which have a legal responsibility not to overserve patrons.

“There’s so much responsibility and liability of the merchant and owner, and it’s not going to become more lenient,” he said.

The machines can help make patrons aware of monitoring themselves, Melton said.

Michael Hagan, head bartender at 7 Bar & Grill, said he has seen patrons use it both for amusement and as an intoxication check “to see where they’re at.”

Awareness can be good, Amarillo Police Cpl. Jerry Neufeld said, but customers also could be emboldened to allow themselves another round of drinks or judge their sobriety based solely on its results.

“Anything that can reduce the amount of people who are drinking and driving, we are definitely in favor of,” Neufeld said. “But a concern would be if people say, ‘I’ve not had that much, I can have another.’”

Alcohol just ingested also might not have made it into the blood stream, “so it’s a 0.03,” Neufeld said. “Thirty minutes later, it may be a .08.”

Neufeld stressed that, while drivers who test below .08 for blood alcohol are below the legal limit for driving, state law expands the definition based on other factors an officer can observe, such as a driver’s ability to pass a field sobriety test.

“Someone does not have to be .08 or above to be arrested for DUI (driving under the influence) if they show other signs they don’t have the normal use of their faculties, mental or physical,” Neufeld said.

The Boozelator at 7 Bar & Grill sits prominently near the bar’s entrance.

“It’s another thing to give my guests, to help them think about it before they get in a car,” owner Rami Maimon said.

Maimon said if he happens to spot high breathalyzer results blown by a guest, he’ll offer a free appetizer and ask the customer to stay or suggest calling a cab.

In the four months 7 Bar & Grill has had a Boozelator, it has averaged nearly 100 uses a month, Melton said. Maimon said customers also learn by watching.

“If there are 100 people who blow, there are probably 400 people who were around it, which helps create awareness,” he said.

Boozelator manufacturer Blo Dad & Sons’ website states an establishment can’t be held responsible if a patron uses the machine and gets a DUI. The company asserts the breath test issued by the vending machine won’t stand up as evidence in court for several reasons, including the fact that the tests aren’t administered under controlled conditions, according to its website.

Melton said the machines neither record nor print test results.

But businesses that serve alcohol can be liable if they are found to have overserved a patron “regardless of what a machine printed or recorded or calculated their BAC (blood-
alcohol content) to be,” Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission spokeswoman Carolyn Beck said. “If they overserved a patron, there’s the potential for criminal charges against the server and administrative action against the (alcohol) permit holder.”

Beck wasn’t familiar with the breathalyzer vending machines or whether a case had arisen involving them, but she said customers shouldn’t be too at ease with the idea of no printed or recorded results in an age when cellphone photos can be snapped.

Melton would like to see legislation in Texas along the lines of that being proposed by Utah state Rep. Gregory H. Hughes, R-Draper. He has a bill pending in that state’s legislature to incentivize the use of the devices, but ensure businesses aren’t held responsible for customers who fail a breath test but decide to drive anyway, the Associated Press reported on Feb. 14.

Hughes said his plan would make using the machines optional for drinkers, and police would not gain access to any data collected, according to Associated Press.

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