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Friday 13 December 2019
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Blow before you drive

 An in-place breathalyzer machine, which can be placed ay bars and other location. Using a token, a customer can purchase a single use breathalyzer kit from the machine. -
An in-place breathalyzer machine, which can be placed ay bars and other location. Using a token, a customer can purchase a single use breathalyzer kit from the machine. -

As at October 20, 2019, there has been an increase in road accidents and fatalities by 13 per cent and 22 per cent compared to 2018. These statistics from Arrive Alive TT show there is a need for drivers to take greater personal responsibility on the nation’s roads. Consider also that, according to one newspaper report in December last year, more than 500 people had been charged for driving under the influence (DUI) in 2018 – a figure that under-represents the number of people who do so week after week, as it only points to the persons caught.

One company wants to make our roads safer, starting with you. Caribbean Breathalyzer is a "beyond-profit" company in the business of saving lives. Founders Sheri Halal and psychiatrist Dr Natasha Mohammed hope to make a positive impact to curtail drunk driving with portable breathalysers.

As the sole distributor for Alcograd, a product aimed at self-testing for blood-alcohol levels, they operate on a premise that people would rather spend a few dollars to buy the product and use it before they leave a place if they had been drinking, rather than pay thousands of dollars in fines or take a life due to drunk driving.

Sheri Halal, one of the founders of Caribbean Breathalyzer, the local distributors of Alcograd, a product aimed at self-testing for blood-alcohol levels. Photo courtesy Sheri Halal - Sheri Halal

Halal is the former operations manager and layout editor for Newsday while Mohammed’s involvement is inspired by the work of her father in the rehabilitation of alcoholics and in her experience in substance abuse prevention and treatment.

New Options

The team hopes to capture the public’s interest with several options soon to be made available at retail outlets. Alcograd is being presented in two forms of packaging – the first can be branded for corporate promotions or gifts (as it is by companies such as Uber in Canada) and the second is a direct-to-consumer form of packaging which features directions as well as other information on the product itself, such as local fines. Opening either of these packages will reveal the breathalyser test. The consumer will follow simple directions, blow into the device and receive a reading on their blood alcohol level. This product can be kept in a purse, a car, or on the person and ready to use as needed after having a few drinks.

Another soon-to-be-launched product would be an in-place breathalyser machine at select bars and establishments. Halal explained, “We have the issue of being a car-centric country with a strong drinking culture. From Carnival to Christmas, we do tend to consume more alcoholic beverages and then are faced with the task of driving home.

Alcograd, a product aimed at self-testing for blood-alcohol levels. The product is being distributed locally by Caribbean Breathalyzer, founded by Sheri Halal and Dr Natasha Mohammed. Photo courtesy Sheri Halal - Sheri Halal

“So in addition to being prepared with the products that you can purchase and keep with you, we would also be rolling out breathalyser machines that you can simply pay the bartender to get a token at which point you would receive a straw. Then you would deposit the token and follow the instructions on the machine.”

Customers will use the straw to blow into the dedicated area of the machine and receive a blood-alcohol level reading and be able to make an informed decision as to whether they should get behind the wheel or not, she said.

Halal pointed out legislation covers a wide range of circumstances that are not only related to situations where drivers are pulled over in roadblocks. The Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic (Amendment) Act, 2017, also notes that people over the legal breath/blood alcohol limit who are attempting to drive or in charge of a vehicle can also be subject to arrest.

Changing Behaviour

“We are the conduit in terms of getting these products to people, of course this is a business, but, make no mistake, we are here to change behaviour,” Halal added. The company has also brought media practitioner Deborah Maillard on board as part of the communication team to achieve its goals.

“There was a time in this country when people would laugh when you suggested wearing a seatbelt, now it’s the norm. We want personal responsibility to be the norm when people are having a few drinks and enjoying themselves. We envision that Carnival bands will want to include the products in their kits for both days on the road and fete promoters would make it a part of the all-inclusive fete experience to ensure the safety of their customers. If we work together to get people in the frame of mind to Blow Before You Drive as our slogan goes, we can see significant reductions in accidents and fatalities which statistically are more common on Saturdays in the 25-34 year old demographic – likely due to a combination of fatigue and/or alcohol,” Halal pointed out.

The consumer products are FDA and TUV-approved (the European FDA equivalent) and the company has chosen to package Alcograd in paper in lieu of plastic to reduce its environmental footprint. But for consumers who envision they would likely want to test themselves on a more regular basis, there are also multi-use devices, such as key chains which can be used more than once.

As TT enters one of the longest and busiest periods of the year for alcohol consumption – the rule remains the same – be responsible; if you drink, breathalyse before you think about driving. If you do drink and drive, don’t tweet while doing it – pull aside and call a friend, taxi or ride-share.

On Saturday, Caribbean Breathalyzer is taking its message and kits to Arrive Alive's World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims 2019 at Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain where it will have a booth.

Also, you can visit caribbeanbreathalyzer.com to see all their road safety devices and use the free blood alcohol concentration (BAC) calculator.

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