Kiley, 26, was from out of town, visiting friends. During her night out tonight she’d had four beers and a couple whiskey and Cokes. That’ll do, we thought. We asked her to put her mouth on it and blow.
She huffed. She puffed. She blew a .22 percent.
PW recently obtained a BACTRACK Select S30 breathalyzer, and we wanted to use it. So we took it out on the streets of Philly and cajoled some drunks into letting us find out just how drunk they actually were. The sleek and portable S30—using “Advanced MicroCheck Technology”—detects the amount of alcohol apparent on the user’s breath and gives a numerical readout on a green, backlit, three-digit LCD display.
Jeff, 30, was skeptical at first. He and Kiley had just walked out of The Foodery together on Second and Poplar streets in Northern Liberties. Only Jeff was so put off to the idea of field sobriety testing that he initially said his name was “Ricardo Retardo” and stormed off. After Kiley agreed to give the S30 a go—it reminded her of being tested for asthma—Jeff relaxed a bit, and gave in too. He’d just bought a six pack of High Life pounders from The Foodery for home consumption, but had already had, as he put it, “the equivalent of 10 beers” over the course of the night.
He blew a .24 percent, and was surprised by the result. Given how lucid he felt, he thought he’d blow a zero. Despite tripling the legal limit for operation of a motor vehicle, Jeff’s mental faculties were intact enough to turn to Kiley and declare “I win” without a trace of a slur.
Included with the box our BACKTRACK Select S30 came in were two AAA batteries and a 17-page owner’s manual. The booklet, along with detailing aspects of proper operation, contains a chart titled “Dose-Specific Effects of Alcohol” that pairs specific BAC read-outs with likely—or, perhaps, suggested—feelings. For instance, tooting a .02-.03 percent should result in “Slight euphoria. Loss of shyness. Depressant effects are not apparent. Impairment possible in some individuals.”
In front of the Pub on Passyunk East in South Philly, PW ran into another Jeff—this one much more subdued. He’d had five PBRs, and blew a .12 percent, “significant impairment of motor coordination and loss of good judgment,” according to the DSE chart. Jeff Two disagreed. “I feel pretty good,” he said, taking a drag off his cigarette. “I feel pretty coordinated.”
In the “Operations” section of the owner’s manual—under the heading “Important!”—test subjects are encouraged to wait 20 minutes after eating, drinking or smoking. Failure to do so can provide inaccurate test results. This is among the reasons the Philadelphia Police Department doesn’t issue breathalyzers to its officers on the street.
Sgt. Ray Evers, spokesman for the PPD, explained department policy. He said the Accident Investigation District is tasked with administering breathalyzer equipment. After an initial suspicion of DUI—based on how a driver behaves, what they look like, and if the officer detects the smell of alcohol—officers are instructed to notify a supervisor and bring the driver to headquarters, where an AID officer is on duty 24 hours a day to administer the test.
Sgt. Evers said that portable breathalyzer units are only utilized in the field by AID personnel—and typically only at “checkpoints”—as the equipment “must be calibrated and requires specialized training.”
PW tried not to let these operative guidelines affect our fieldwork. Kiley’s and Jeff’s friend Bryan, 29, practically begged to be breathalyzed. And, despite the fact that he was drinking a can of Beck’s from a paper bag, we let him. He blew a whopping .27 percent.
But it was his Pinot Grigio-toting girlfriend who trumped all test results. After the test’s conclusion, boy and wine-box in her clutches, she hollered, “Yeah PW, we’re wasted!”
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