When It Comes to Monitoring, Scientists Want to Get Under Your Skin

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Are James Bond-type microchips the next wave of alcohol monitoring technologies? Scientists at the University of California San Diego seem to think so. These engineering researchers are hoping that an injectable microchip that monitors drinking will help treatment programs improve outcomes.

Monitoring Alcohol Consumption: Beneath the Skin

In April, engineers at the UC San Diego announced the development of a miniature biosensor designed to be implanted beneath the skin to monitor alcohol consumption in humans. The injectable chip measures one cubic millimeter and is powered by a wearable device, like a smartwatch. It works when alcohol interacts with an enzyme coating, which then generates a byproduct that can be electrochemically detected. These electrical signals are transmitted wirelessly, indicating the presence of alcohol.

“The ultimate goal of this work is to develop a routine, unobtrusive alcohol and drug monitoring device for patients in substance abuse treatment programs,” said Drew Hall, an electrical engineering professor at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and the leader of the project. “A tiny injectable sensor—that can be administered in a clinic without surgery—could make it easier for patients to follow a prescribed course of monitoring for extended periods of time,” Hall said during the technology’s announcement.

Alternatives to Continuous Alcohol Monitoring

For decades, alcohol monitoring technology has been designed primarily for community corrections to ensure offenders convicted of alcohol-related crimes remain sober. However, in recent years, there’s been increasing interest in developing monitoring for treatment and even personal use.

For example, in 2016, the UC San Diego team announced the development of a disposable temporary “tattoo” that is worn on the skin and collects blood-alcohol readings from the wearer’s sweat. The downside to this technology is that it’s single-use and easily removable with just one pull. Other types of monitoring technology, more akin to fitness bands, help wearers track their alcohol consumption via a wrist-worn monitor. While patches and bands are lower-profile and less expensive compared to continuous monitoring technology, they’re more ideal for personal use, such as helping people track their alcohol consumption during a night out with friends.

However, these alcohol-monitoring alternatives are fairly unobtrusive and critics question how many people will agree to have a microchip injected into their bodies.

While the work of the UC San Diego team is compelling, the chip has only been tested in vitro and many stages of testing and possible legal hurdles—likely lasting years—will be required before it can advance to general use. Given a choice between an ankle bracelet or a microchip that is implanted under your skin, which would you choose?

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Dash Cams Provide Frightening View of Drunk Driving

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A growing number of people are using dashboard cameras to prove safe driving habits or to protect themselves during traffic accidents. But these devices are also providing a terrifying, front-seat perspective on the dangers of drunk driving and the poor choices impaired drivers make. For example, this video shows a Georgia woman who stopped in the middle of a freeway after being pulled over by police, endangering herself, the officers, and other motorists.

While there are many bystander and law enforcement clips online that highlight the erratic behaviors of suspected drunk drivers, a recent video released by the Sussex Police in South East England shows first-person footage of an intoxicated school teacher’s perilous 20-minute drive home, which ends with the driver crashing into a parked car.

In the video, the dash cam catches the entire journey of inconsistent speed, erratic steering, and hitting curbs and bushes, all from the driver’s perspective. While nobody was hurt—this time—the Sussex Police released the video in the hopes of deterring others from making the decision to drive while intoxicated.

These videos are surfacing with increasing regularity on sites and social media channels like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Law enforcement agencies believe the videos can help deter people from making the bad decision to drive buzzed or drunk, but some are concerned the videos could inspire copycats.

Watch the video below and tell us what you think.

 

State Drunk Driving Laws Search Tool

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“No Refusal” DUI Policies: Time Is A Factor

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During a drunk-driving traffic stop or following a crash, time is a critical factor when it comes to accurately determining a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Because the human body rapidly metabolizes consumed alcohol, if too much time passes between the initial stop and the administration of a BAC test, the results may not support prosecution.

That’s why many jurisdictions turn to blood draw testing when a DUI suspect refuses a breath test. In some counties, it can take several hours to get a paper warrant issued for a blood draw, especially if the request is made late at night. In places like Illinois’ Boone County and McHenry County, electronic warrants are speeding up this process. Relying on on-call judges, officers can obtain the court order necessary to mandate blood sample testing for drivers who refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test. The goal of these programs is to preserve evidence—a driver’s BAC levels are often the strongest evidence in DUI cases—in hopes of securing more convictions.

Blood Tests Seen as More Intrusive

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in Missouri v. McNeely that blood testing without a warrant was unconstitutional. The ruling was reaffirmed three years later in Birchfield v. North Dakota when the high court upheld penalties for warrantless breath tests, but not for blood testing. At the time, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion:

“Because the impact of breath tests on privacy is slight, and the need for BAC testing is great, the Fourth Amendment permits warrantless breath tests incident to arrests for drunk driving. Blood tests, however, are significantly more intrusive, and their reasonableness must be judged in light of the availability of the less invasive alternative of a breath test.”

As a result, many states had to alter their implied consent laws. Now, the only way officers with probable cause can compel a DUI suspect to undergo blood draw testing is by acquiring a legal warrant beforehand.

Streamlining Due Process Procedures

Boone and McHenry Counties’ are part of a growing policy trend utilizing technology to more quickly obtain warrants, helping to both collect and preserve BAC evidence in cases of drunk driving. If a DUI suspect refuses to submit to a breathalyzer test, warrant requests can be created, reviewed, and processed electronically, allowing officers to acquire a blood sample test at a nearby hospital. No Refusal policies are providing counties not only more evidence, but more accurate evidence for prosecuting drunk driving offenses in court.

By instituting No Refusal DUI policies, many law enforcement agencies are no longer allowing suspected drunk drivers to simply avoid sobriety testing during DUI stops.

According to a statement made by McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally, “This policy will ensure that prosecutors are equipped with the strongest possible evidence in court and, thereby, that all DUI offenders are held accountable.”

State Drunk Driving Laws Search Tool

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Saturday Cinco de Mayo Could Mean More Drunk Driving

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Commemorating Mexico’s 1862 defeat of French forces, Cinco de Mayo—only sporadically celebrated throughout Mexico—didn’t gain widespread popularity as a U.S. holiday until the 1960s, when it became a way for Mexican-Americans to celebrate their heritage and for Anglo-Americans to learn about Mexican culture.

But, as the holiday’s popularity began to grow in the 1980s, alcohol companies viewed this as a prime marketing opportunity and the link between Cinco de Mayo and drinking began.

Cinco de Saturday—Weekend holidays mean more drunk driving

With special “fiesta” themed cocktails, local bar crawls, and even Cinco de Mayo-specific TV commercials sponsored by big alcohol brands, the connection between drinking and this festive holiday remains strong. Bars, restaurants, and partygoers are already gearing up for a weekend of tequila-fueled entertainment using social media hashtags like #CincodeMayo and #CincodeDrinko to promote their plans for the weekend.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), reports that twice as many drunk driving crashes happen on weekends, and when you throw a holiday into the mix, that number tends to increase. Data from Alcohol Monitoring Systems also shows that drinking violations by monitored, repeat DUI offenders are generally two to three times higher when a holiday falls on a weekend compared to when it occurs on a weekday.

In fact, in 2016 alone, 78 people were killed in drunk-driving related crashes over the Cinco de Mayo holiday weekend, and almost 20% of drivers in fatal crashes had BACs of .15 or higher, according to NHTSA.

Fiesta Responsibly

If you choose to have a margarita or two and party like there’s no mañana, make sure to follow these tips to have a safe Cinco de Mayo.

  • Plan your sober ride home before you leave for the party. There’s nothing worse than having to worry about how you are getting home at the end of the night or making the wrong decision to drive impaired. Before you take your first sip, designate a sober driver, utilize ride-sharing or taxi services, or arrange to stay the night.
  • Understand how much you are actually consuming. Margaritas account for almost half of all drinks ordered on Cinco de Mayo, but many people don’t realize that the average margarita is equal to two to three “standard” drinks. Pace yourself by alternating alcoholic beverages with water, and make sure to have a bite to eat before you drink.
  • Leave your car at home. Remove the temptation to drive by leaving your car at home. Not only will you avoid traffic and DUI checkpoints, but you might even save money on parking!

 

State Drunk Driving Laws Search Tool

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Alcohol Abuse: The Biggest Addiction Problem in New Hampshire

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America is currently in the grip of an addiction crisis—the opioid epidemic. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), over 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, more than the number of Americans killed during the entirety of the Vietnam War. While the devastating effects of opioid addiction have been well-publicized in recent years, many states continue to designate alcohol abuse as their priority.

Alcohol Abuse Is Still A Leading Problem

An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. behind tobacco and poor diet. According to a study published last year in JAMA Psychiatry, statistics indicate that nearly 30 million Americans struggle with some form of alcohol abuse or addiction. And while alcohol has long been a troubling public health issue in America, these statistics show the rise in opioid addiction has done little to diminish the widespread damaging effects of alcohol.

New Hampshire is one of the hardest hit states for opioid abuse, but a recent study found that alcohol continues to be the state’s primary substance abuse issue. Between 2014 and 2015, the Granite State saw some of the highest substance abuse rates in the country, particularly among its younger citizens. Following a study analyzing alcohol consumption over a 30-day period, New Hampshire ranked the highest, not only in the northeast, but throughout the country. Unfortunately, this high rate of alcohol abuse has spilled over to the roads. In 2016 alone, there were 136 alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities, a 21% jump from the previous year.

“We are often in the top five states when it comes to the highest rates of binge drinking and alcohol misuse,” says Kate Frey, Vice President of Advocacy for New Futures, a nonprofit promoting improved health and wellness for New Hampshire residents.

Link Between Alcohol and Opioid Abuse

States and public health organizations have new reasons to see and address alcohol abuse and the opioid crisis as part of the same problem. A literature review published the March 2018 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that alcohol and opioid abuse frequently go hand-in-hand. Moreover, abuse of both substances may increase the likelihood of overdosing and lower the likelihood of successful treatment outcomes.

A Safe Haven To Seek Help

The problems associated with substance abuse and alcohol addiction are nothing new, but New Hampshire is taking a unique approach to help those seeking sobriety. Safe Station, a two-year-old program that started in Manchester, establishes a designated safe environment—any city fire station—for addicts seeking treatment. Available day or night, the only thing required of an addict is to summon the courage to walk into a local station and simply ask for the help they need. From there, they surrender any drug paraphernalia, receive a medical assessment, and are then directed to an appropriate medical facility.

From 2016 to 2017, Manchester Fire Departments received over 1,500 requests from those seeking a path to recovery. The success of the Safe Station program model has spread to other cities in New Hampshire, including nearby Rhode Island. Addiction is a crisis that does not discriminate; it affects young and old, affluent and poor, neighbors and family members alike. Whether it’s opioids or alcohol, substance abuse continues to take a heavy toll, but connecting addicts with treatment services is a good step in combating the devastating effects of addiction.

24/7 Sobriety Program Resource Center

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Tennessee Proposes Banning DUI Offenders From Purchasing Alcohol

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Tennessee lawmakers are looking to significantly limit the access to alcohol for anyone convicted of a DUI. Sponsored by Rep. Bud Hulsey and Sen. Frank Niceley, House Bill 1698 would require convicted drunk drivers to forfeit their privilege to purchase alcohol for a specified period of time.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 28% of motor vehicle traffic deaths in the U.S. during 2016 were caused by alcohol-impaired drivers. In that same year, alcohol-related crashes accounted for 21% of all traffic deaths in the state of Tennessee. The bill is one more attempt to keep motorists safe and it’s not the first time a solution like this has been proposed.

No Booze For You

As stated in the bill, anyone convicted of a first offense would face a one-year restriction on the purchase of alcohol while a second offense would lead to purchasing privileges being forfeited for two years. A third DUI conviction would result in a lifetime ban on purchasing alcohol with no option for reinstatement and any offender caught trying to purchase alcohol would face a Class C misdemeanor.

An offender’s prohibited status would be reflected on an updated driver’s license. This ID would include a red stripe and “No Alcohol Sales” stamped on their license to clearly identify them as being restricted from making purchases.

And while the proposal would limit purchasing options for offenders, it cannot guarantee convicted drunk drivers will not drink at all. Simply banning someone from buying alcoholic drinks does not completely remove their access to booze, which can be gained through family or friends.

Stopping Alcohol Sales At The Source

Despite these loopholes, legislators have not been deterred from doing their part to keep Tennessee’s roads safer. Under the original proposal, a vendor caught selling alcohol to an offender would also face the same Class C misdemeanor that a convicted DUI offender would face if caught making a purchase—up to five months and 29 days in jail plus a fine. However, the bill has since been amended, removing the punishment for selling alcohol to offenders.

Ultimately, lawmakers decided against punishing vendors who did not commit the original DUI crime itself. As it stands now, the bill has advanced to the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee and could be signed into law as early as July 1.

What do you think? Will restricting the sale of alcohol to convicted drunk drivers result in reducing DUIs and alcohol-involved crashes or should the state of Tennessee focus its efforts elsewhere?

State Drunk Driving Laws Search Tool

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Self-Reported Drunk and Dangerous Driving Decreasing, Survey Shows

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The Traffic Injury Research Foundation USA (TIRF) has released the 2017 results from their annual Road Safety Monitor, a public opinion survey focusing on self-reported drunk and dangerous driving behaviors. TIRF is reporting a decrease of self-reported drunk driving since the survey’s first release in 2015, suggesting that Americans are becoming more conscious of making dangerous driving decisions and of their alternative transportation options should they choose to drink.

Are Drivers Becoming More Aware of Dangerous Decisions?

Between 2015 and 2016, the poll results showed a substantial increase of Americans who admitted to driving drunk in the last 12 months, from 8% to 11.7%, coinciding with an increased rate of alcohol-involved traffic fatalities in 2016. However, TIRF’s 2017 data shows that 9.2% of U.S. drivers reported that they drove over the legal limit in the last 12 months, with 2.2% doing so “often or very often”—a decrease from 5.5% in 2016 and 4% in 2015.

Additionally, 2017 saw lower percentages in all categories of self-reported dangerous driving behaviors, including speeding, driving while tired or fatigued, and distracted driving.

Top Reported Reasons People Drive Impaired

The most commonly reported reasons people chose to drive when they thought they were above the legal limit remained relatively consistent with previous years’ results:

  • 48.6% of surveyed drivers stated they got behind the wheel while intoxicated because they “thought they were OK to drive,” a 4.9% increase from 2016
  • 12.8% chose to drive impaired because they were “not very far away” from their destination
  • 10.6% believed they “could drive carefully”

However, the percentage of people that believed they “had no alternative” was almost cut in half at 4.7% (from 8.7% in 2016), suggesting that the use of transportation alternatives, such as ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, is gaining popularity across the country. But, with almost half of surveyed drivers believing they were fine to drive after drinking indicates that more education on the dangers and consequences of this behavior may be needed.

While a decrease in self-reported drunk driving is great news, one good year does not make a trend. This is why TIRF, among other agencies and organizations, continue to bring attention to the dangers of alcohol-impaired driving—developing and sharing knowledge that saves lives.

Click here to read the full results of TIRF’s 2017 Road Safety Monitor.

State Drunk Driving Laws Search Tool

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Surprising Stats About St. Patrick’s Day & Drinking

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St. Patrick’s Day: a holiday where “everybody’s Irish” and people guzzle green beer with their corned beef and cabbage. But this traditionally boozy day is also a very dangerous one when it comes to drinking and driving.

And with St. Paddy’s Day falling on a Saturday this year, the fourth most popular drinking day is bound to be extra unlucky for those who choose to get behind the wheel after drinking a pint (or several).

Take a look at this free downloadable infographic highlighting the shocking statistics of St. Patrick’s Day drinking and driving. You don’t want to push your luck this St. Paddy’s Day—plan your sober ride home in advance.

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Work-release inmate arrested on “pot” charge

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Work-release inmate arrested on “pot” charge

Click here to read a story about a work release-eligible inmate in the Fauquier County jail who was arrested for possessing marijuana in order to sell it. The inmate was monitored with a GPS monitoring device.

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