As a kickoff to the Sober Summer program, county law enforcement recently announced the purchase of 43 court-admissible breathalyzers.

With the introduction of the Portable Evidential Breath Test Units, law enforcement is anticipating a local 20 percent spike in drunken driving arrests, said Wayne Hansen, administration services officer II for County Drug and Alcohol Services.

“(The breathalyzers) will increase the number of tests, which will then increase the likelihood that more intoxicated drivers are taken off the streets,” Hansen said.

The new tests, officially named the Alcosensor 4 XL, will replace the non-portable Intoxilyzer 5000s, the only court-accepted breathalyzer currently in use in the county.

As it stands, the breathalyzers carried in law enforcement vehicles can only be used as blood-alcohol indicators, while the more accurate Intoxilyzer 5000s are in fixed locations, such as the county jail. With the Portable Evidential Breath Test Unit, law enforcement can avoid the delay that is caused by transporting a suspected drunk driver to a stationary test point.

“Because we’re such a rural county, some of the DUI stops can be hours away from the Intoxilyzer 5000,” said Elisa Leigan, chair of the San Luis Obispo County DUI Task Force.

The devices, which cost $3,625 each, were purchased by County Drug and Alcohol Services, thanks to a $196,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety. This will be extended to fund the equipment calibrating and law enforcement training, said Michael Stevens, administration services manager for County Drug and Alcohol Services.

The 43 briefcase-sized devices will be distributed to San Luis Obispo County Sheriffs, California Highway Patrol and individual city police departments, Hansen said. State Parks and Cal Poly campus police will not receive any of the tests due to restrictions placed by the Traffic Safety grant.

Leigan said that as part of the Sober Summer Program, law enforcement is increasing roadside DUI stops and enlisting the help of underage buyers to ensure that stores are selling alcohol only to those of age. She said law enforcement are also focused on cracking down on out-of-towners who think “it’s OK to drink and drive when you’re on vacation.”

“From our perspective, we’re just trying to make it harder for people who drink and drive, because it’s not safe,” Stevens said.

Over the 2006 Fourth of July weekend, 26 people were arrested for drunk driving, which Leigan said is consistent with past years.

With training and calibration of the Portable Evidential Breath Test Units still in the works, they are not expected to be used in law enforcement vehicles until September in time for Labor Day, Leigan said. She said the largest increases in DUI arrests come between July 4 and Labor Day and then again between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Hansen said he hopes the new devices will not only take unsafe drivers off the streets, but will also work to get help for those who do drink and drive.

“If someone is arrested for drunk driving more than once, the likelihood is very high that they have a serious problem with alcohol,” he said.

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