When Ryan Walden was a junior in college, one of his friends was arrested for drunken driving.
He said his friend hadn’t had a drink in four hours and thought he was OK to get behind the wheel.
The experience inspired Walden, 24, to partner with his father and brother to found a company and create a new breathalyzer machine for the bars: IntoxBox.
“I got the idea that there are a lot of people out there who just don’t know they’re breaking the law,” he said.
December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month, so the company, Walden Innovative Resources, is offering free use of the device on certain nights in the Twin Cities, Walden said.
The company is also handing out $1,500 worth of free rides from local company Drink and Drive
But the IntoxBox is a hard sell in Dinkytown, where bar owners say young people are likely to use it as a drinking
“Dinkytown [business owners] said they don’t want college students to use this as a game,” Walden said.
The IntoxBox allows bar patrons to test their blood alcohol content before leaving a bar to drive home. The machine costs $2 to use and works like any other breathalyzer device.
Although the IntoxBox is not the first bar breathalyzer on the market, Walden said it has an advantage over competition because it uses the same quality sensors police use in their breathalyzers.
“It was designed to be a high-end breathalyzer that would look good in someone’s bar,” he said.
Walden began approaching bars in the Twin Cities area with the IntoxBox in 2010, he said. He offered to install and allow bars to use the breathalyzer for free and agreed to split the revenue from the machine with bar owners.
“We want to make them as sweet a deal as possible,” he said.
So far, the IntoxBox has been well-received in the south suburbs of the Twin Cities, as well as St. Paul, Walden said.
Terry Freeman, general manager at the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park, said the IntoxBox is a good tool to raise awareness about drunken driving. However, the results of someone’s test cannot be used in court.
“[The results] won’t hold up in court,” Freeman said. “But we want people to be able to see where they’re at with drinking.”
Along with in Dinkytown, the breathalyzer has been a tough sell in Uptown and downtown
“Uptown and downtown are a little different in how they operate,” Walden said. “They’re more business-orientated and not so much concerned about customers drinking and driving.”
Greg Pillsbury, owner of Burrito Loco in Dinkytown, said he thinks the IntoxBox is a good idea, but he’s seen similar machines used by young bar patrons for the wrong reasons.
In the past, bar patrons have used bar breathalyzers as part of a game to see how drunk they could get, he said.
Pillsbury has not been approached about the IntoxBox yet, he said, but he added he would consider adding it despite what he’s seen before.
Tom Casper, the general manager of Shamrock’s Grill and Pub in St. Paul, said he shares some of Pillsbury’s concerns.
“One drawback is it could become a game,” he said.
Most bars do not supervise the use of the machine, so Casper said it’s easy for customers to use the machine to see who could drink the most.
Pillsbury and Casper both said the potential benefits of the machine outweigh concerns about it.
“I would use it when I go out,” Pillsbury said. “I like to know where I’m at.”
Casper said the effectiveness of the IntoxBox is determined by how customers use it.
“It can be a tool to make good decisions,” he said, “but the choices are up to you.”