with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the courts. "We're looking at a database of blood alcohol results that the DMV and courts can have instant access to," said Scott. This would be particularly useful for the DMV, which is required by the Legislature to track DUI arrests from the time of arrest until they have passed through the courts. Additionally, when police arrest a drunk driver they suspend his or her license. That driver then has 15 days to request a hearing to keep the license, which means DMV needs information on DUI arrests quickly. "Any kind of information we can provide, DMV is interested in because it's difficult for them to get that information electronically at this time," Scott explained.
While Intoximeters Inc. redesigns their device to meet these new needs, DOJ is planning to do a pilot project beginning this month to demonstrate the feasibility of using the tool for evidential purposes. If the study goes well, DOJ plans to apply for an Office of Traffic Safety grant to pay for the new equipment.
"One of the problems with developing this kind of equipment is there's so much red tape involved with regulations and getting it approved," said Scott. "Getting some of the technology accepted in court is not easy. Since this is new technology we'll have to go to court and demonstrate that the principles are accepted by the scientific community and we'll have to have experts come in and testify."
But everyone seems to agree that this process will be well worth it for the amount of time it will save. "The equipment to do this exists -- it's just that it hasn't been done yet because it's a complicated process," said Rankin Forrester, executive vice president for Intoximeters Inc. "Once it's done, it's going to be a real value in saving officer down time."
"The biggest problem right now is getting officers on the street who can prosecute DUIs, because as we all know, a police officer is expensive," said Cox. "If we could make him twice as efficient, that would be quite an improvement."
FUEL CELL TECHNOLOGY
The breath analysis test is based on fuel cell technology. As Rankin Forrester, executive vice president of Intoximeters Inc., explained, "A fuel cell is basically a battery, where the electrolyte in this particular battery is alcohol. It's like a battery in a car -- if you put a volt meter on a car that had no electrolyte on it you would see no charge. If you add an electrolyte, a current is created and you would see the voltage on the meter," he said. Therefore, if you look at a fuel cell sensor when there is no alcohol on it there will be no current. But once alcohol gets put on the surface, a current is generated. "On this particular battery there is a chemical reaction that goes on on the cell's surface -- it burns the alcohol. The alcohol is converted and in that process electrons are given off -- a certain number of electrons for every molecule of alcohol. By measuring the current, we can measure the amount of alcohol that was placed on the cell's surface, and therefore the percentage of alcohol in a suspect's blood."
Forrester, who's grandfather founded the company 50 years ago, said fuel cell technology has been around for many years. "But the technology hasn't been there to do the stuff we are looking at doing here. Technology has now gotten better for the sensors, providing more accurate readings. At the same time communications technology has become readily available, which will enable us to create this kind of system."