This 'Buddy' Doesn't Want You Driving Drunk

Monday, October 19, 2009

LI man builds barroom breathalyzers

A serious problem on Long Island and all across our nation today is drunk driving. People become intoxicated at bars and pubs then get in their cars and drive home, putting not only themselves at risk but everyone else on the road too. What if there were a machine in bars to let people know if they should drive or not? While visiting Europe two years ago, John Berlingieri of Holbrook saw a product that calculated a person's blood alcohol content, the factor that determines whether someone is legally drunk. Berlingieri thought it would be a no-brainer to bring this product stateside, and in February 2008 Alco-Buddy was born.

Alco-Buddy, which is in the process of being patented, resembles a small vending machine. For a price often $2 a bar patron can exhale into Alco-Buddy through a straw dispensed by the machine. Alco-Buddy calculates the customer's BAC and displays that level for a few seconds in green numbers if the level is legal and in red if it is above the legal limit of 0.08.

Since making his first machines in Bohemia, Berlingieri has begun selling them to bars and other establishments that serve alcohol. Thirty companies in over 15 states have ordered machines for their stores. Berlingieri, who had worked 10 years for his father at TENS Machine Company, an aircraft manufacturer on Long Island, now heads up his own company, which produces about a hundred Alco-Buddy machines per month.

According to Berlingieri, a bar owner who puts the machine in his or her establishment is showing concern for the customers' well-being. If the owner can demonstrate to someone in the bar that he or she is legally drunk, there is a better chance of keeping the person from getting behind the wheel, Berlingieri said. BAC levels displayed by Alco-Buddy are not legally binding. Still, Berlingieri says his machines' BAC readouts are accurate to within 0.02. He calibrates each machine himself by means of an alcohol mixture warmed to approximate the temperature of human breath. The BAC percentage is displayed for several seconds then vanishes. No printouts are given. The machine is officially "for entertainment only," despite the potentially serious nature of a high BAC.

There are of course those bar patrons, according to Berlingieri, who prefer to use his machine solely for amusement, including a group of Marines in uniform he once saw competing to get the highest "score." When he has observed customers doing that, Berlingieri said they had someone present to serve as a designated driver. He hopes the owners and staff of the establishments where he has installed Alco-Buddy more than 15 Long Island watering holes to date would encourage patrons whose BAC is over the legal limit to get a ride home.

Suffolk police did not respond to calls for comment on the barroom breathalyzer. But Berlingieri said he has got good reviews from police officers he has spoken with, who have told the inventive entrepreneur any tool that helps reduce drunk driving is viewed in a positive light. In the words of Berlingieri's company motto: "Check yourself, before you wreck yourself."

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