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How Are You Supposed to Know How Drunk You Are?

Sometimes a good idea is so obvious that you can’t believe no one has made it happen yet. That would seem to be the case with something called the Impair Aware Alcohol Level Indication System. It’s a machine you can put in a bar or restaurant that lets you measure your blood alcohol level so you know if you’re fit to drive or not. This takes the guesswork out of a guessing game that has been going on for generations. It has been introduced in the U.S. by Federico Forero, a longtime manager of a probation office in Atlanta, who saw the machine in use in bars in Europe. Here is some more information about the machine, and here is a press release.

As good an idea as this is, I am not sure how widely this machine will be adopted, in part because of the mixed incentives at play. Bar owners may scoff at having to buy a piece of equipment that may be seen as curbing sales. (On the other hand, the machine could help earn the bar owner some legal protection if a customer leaves the bar drunk and gets into an accident.) Also, the way it’s configured, a customer has to pay to use the machine — that’s how the bar owner is supposed to make his money back, by collecting fees for use. But will people be willing to pay, even a small fee, to find out news that they might not want to know? Would you weigh yourself in the bathroom every morning if your home scale cost $.50?

On balance, though, this seems to be a great idea. The true test would be to get data from the cities and towns in Europe where the machine has been used and look at trends in alcohol consumption, auto accidents, taxis called to bars, etc.