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Traffic Inj Prev. 2004 Mar;5(1):42-9.

Potential risks of providing drinking drivers with BAC information.

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  • 1Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Calverton, Maryland 20705, USA.


The objective of this paper is to discuss the benefits and risks of providing drinkers with tools that allow them to estimate their blood alcohol concentration (BAC), and to examine the field usability of one commercially available tool. Drinking and driving laws are specified in terms of the driver's BAC, and there is concern that the absence of a method for drivers to accurately estimate their BAC level limits their ability to determine whether they can drive legally. A number of devices that provide a method for the individual to estimate or measure their BAC have been developed. Although some of these devices--such as the "know your limit" (KYL) cards--have been widely distributed, their effectiveness in encouraging good driving decisions have rarely been tested. This article describes a pilot study on the field usability of the Guardian Angel (GA) personal alcohol test in a field setting. The GA test analyzes saliva samples from drinking and indicates under which BAC category they fall (.00 -.04;.04 -.08;.08+). The research examined whether drinkers could, in natural drinking environments, correctly administer and interpret the test results. The methodology involves sampling drinkers on a weekend night on and around the grounds of a large West Coast university as they traveled between off-campus parties, bars, and their dorms. They were asked to assess their own intoxication and impairment, then self-administer and interpret the Guardian Angel test. After interpreting the test, participants were asked to reassess their intoxication and impairment levels, and were given a breath BAC test using a calibrated unit. The results revealed that although the majority of drinkers' were able to administer the GA test, their interpretations did not correspond with actual BACs. The interpretations of the GA test produced false-negatives, underestimating actual BACs. Drinkers perceived themselves to be less intoxicated, on average, after interpreting the GA test results. In conclusion, this research addresses potential pros and cons of providing BAC information to drinkers. It underscores the importance of testing BAC estimation tools under field conditions and the potential risks associated with tests that do not produce accurate results.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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