Friedman: Better SAFE than sorry


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Earlier in the summer, The Daily Iowan ran a column about an organization called Be SAFE Iowa. The founders, Bill Schmooke and Becky Russo, go around Iowa installing digital-readout breath testers in places that serve alcohol.

As of July, Schmooke and Russo were reaching out to businesses to see if they were at all interested in the idea of even having a breath test on their premises.

They don’t have that problem anymore.

Businesses are recognizing the potential for good the breath tests bring, and if more establishments start to understand that, the quicker the University of Iowa will lose value as a party school.

The Be SAFE Iowa program now operates four machines around Iowa City in Deadwood, Wildwood, Liquor Downtown, and most recently the Airliner Bar, with six more around the state.

Russo said people who use the machine will be educated about their blood-alcohol level, whether they like it or not.

“Even if [people] don’t use the Breathalyzer as an educational tool, they’re still going to learn what their blood alcohol is,” she said.

She noted that even if people don’t feel drunk, they might wait a little while after checking their blood alcohol before getting into a car.

Just because you know your content level doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to take it seriously.

There’s always the chance that the breath tests could be used as a part in some perverse drinking game. Worse, though, would be people using the machine and disregarding the results even if there’s alcohol in their system. Worse than that would be a person getting into a car and driving home.

OWIs are a serious issue in Iowa City. Iowa City police arrest statistics reveal that there were 26 OWI arrests in June, bringing the total up to 183 for the year. The average blood-alcohol level for those arrested since January was .158, almost twice the legal limit.

A first offense carries a fine up to $1,000, losing one’s driver’s license for six months, and a jail sentence ranging from two days to one year.

Iowa also operates by implied consent. This law reserves the right for a police officer to subject somebody to a blood, urine, or breath test if he or she has any reason to believe somebody has been drinking and driving.

Schmooke and Russo’s machines require only $1 to use the breath tests because the owners don’t want anybody to have to make the decision to choose between getting another drink and knowing when to stop.

They were quick to note, though, that they can raise the price of the machines to $5 to deter anyone who wants to use the machine inappropriately if such reports are made. So far, they haven’t had any such reports.

Schmooke and Russo said they’d like to have around 25 units installed in Iowa City by this time next year.

That might seem excessive to some, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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