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Flashback Friday: "You Can’t Fool Mother Nature; or the Portable Booze Breath Tester Either"

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From the Two Harbors Chronicle & Times, March 26, 1974.2 / 3
From the Two Harbors Chronicle & Times, March 26, 1974.3 / 3

From the Two Harbors Chronicle & Times, March 26, 1974. Misspellings and other grammatical oddities left intact. 

It’s late Saturday night. The Highway Patrol car is parked along a winding stretch of Highway 61. A pair of headlights appear on the horizon and the trooper takes note that an approaching car is weaving when the road is straight, and is going straight when the road is weaving.

The trooper flips a switch and flashing red lights tell the driver he had better pull over. “Honest offisher, I maybe had one or two drincsh, but I’m shurely not a drunk. I know my limit.”

Scenes like the one above are not an uncommon experience for North Shore patrolmen, or for that matter, patrolmen throughout the United States.

And until just recently, the trooper had to rely on his judgement whether or not to bring the motorist in for further testing.

But along comes the RBT – Roadside Breath Tester – a portable new gadget, about the size of a large transistor radio, that the trooper can use to take on-the-scene tests to provide an indication of whether a driver’s blood-alcohol content is at a level possibly affecting his ability to operate a vehicle safely.

Two of the testing devices are now carried by State Troopers covering Lake County. If the trooper has reason to believe that a driver is under the influence of alcohol, he tests the suspect by having him blow into a sanitary mouth-piece.

The RBT has a series of lights on its front panel. The suspect blows into the machine until the first series of lights go out. After a few moments, one of three other lights go on – indicating the proportion of ethyl alcohol in the breath. The driver either passes, gets a worning light, or a failure light.

The RBt assists the trooper in arriving at a valid judgement, frequently avoiding an unnecessary trip to the sheriff’s office for further tests.

If the “fail” light goes on, it indicates the driver has a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 per cent. Although the driver may not be too concerned about that fact at the time, he will sober up when told this is an illegal level to be driving at.

While the roadside tester’s results are not admissible evidence in court, a urine, blood, or Breathalyzer (breth) test is. Those who fail the roadside test are brought to the Lake County Sheriff’s office where a more sophisticated breath tester is located.

The breathalyzer has been in use for the past year in this area, and is preferred by most suspects over the blood or unire tests, both which involve lab testing.

Of those tested in Lake County over the past year, none have been lower than the 0.11 level, and one has been recorded at .23, which has been described as “pretty well oiled.”

A 145 lb. adult, for instance, would have to consume about 11 ounces of 80 proof liquor in one hour to hit the .23 level.

Well, you might ask, what if a driver doesn’t want to take that test? That is their right, said State Trooper Richard Mosca in a recent interview, however, failure to comply with the request of the officer to do so may result in the loss of the driver’s license for six months.

Under the Minnesota “Breath Test” law, when a peace officer has reason to believe that a person has been or is in violation of the law involving driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, he can request a preliminary screening sample of the driver’s breath.

And under the “Implied Consent” law, peace officers can request to give a sample of blood, or in the alternative, breath or urine.

Under both laws, the driver may refuse to comply, but such action may result in the loss of the driver’s license for six months.

While RBT is new to the North Shore, it has been in use for some time in the Twin Cities. During the first year of roadside breath testing under the Hennepin County Alcohol Safety Action Project, Minneapolis traffic fatalities dropped to their lowest level since 1927 and Hennepin County traffic fatalities were reduced by 18 per cent.

More than 500 persons die in alcohol-related crashes in Minnesota each year, Mosca noted, that’s more than 50 per cent of the fatal crashes.

Besides helping to pinpoint the drinking driver, the roadside breathtester has other values, Mosca noted, which include:

-When the driving public is aware they may be stopped for a quick test, drinking habits become more conservative.

-The driver who can light up the “warning” light is slowed down and an accident possibly is avoided.

-The driver in the “danger” range is taken off the street for the protection of the general public.

-It identifies people, who, due to medical conditions, appear to be intoxicated but are not. In these situations, the person is not arrested and proper help can be provided.

What are the penalties for driving with a .10 blood level or higher? For the first offense alone the convicted driver gets and pays between $10 and $300 in fines (usually $300), and the driver’s license is revolked for not less than 30 days. For additional offenses, the penalties get much worse. 

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
(218) 834-2141