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Washington State Patrol Unveils New Breathalyzer Machines

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Wash. State Trooper Mel Sterkel demonstrates the patrol's newest breath testing instrument, used to measure alcohol levels in drivers suspected of drunken driving, Nov. 5, 2014, in Seattle.

After four years of testing and assessment, the Washington State Patrol rolled out its new breathalyzer machines Tuesday.

Trooper Mel Sterkel ran the new Draeger Alcotest 95-10 through its paces at a demonstration yesterday. He breathed into a tube for about 5 seconds. That's enough to provide 1.5 liters of air, the minimum needed for a valid sample.

Luckily for Officer Sterkel, in a room full of Washington State Troopers, his alcohol reading came back 0.00.

The new machines will replace the reliable but ancient DataMaster instruments, which were discontinued in 2008. The patrol says the new touch screen technology is faster, just as accurate, and will be easier for officers to operate.

[asset-images[{"caption": "On the table during the demonstration was a model of the Harger Drunkometer, invented by a professor at Indiana University in 1938. The person being tested blew into a balloon. The air in the balloon was then released into a chemical solution. If there was alcohol in the breath, the chemical solution changed color.", "fid": "94199", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201411/drunkometer.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Kim Malcolm"}]]

Lt. Rob Sharpe, commander of the patrol's impaired driving section, said training on the new devices takes about two hours.

"It doesn't take much, it's a little bit of transition training, so they get familiar with the interface of the instrument. But once they're trained, they'll be up and running and ready to hit the streets," Sharpe said.

The new Draeger instruments do not measure marijuana levels. A blood test is still required to determine the presence of pot. The machines cost $9,500 each.

Eight-three of them will be deployed by the holidays, in northwestern and southeastern Washington. Sharpe says it will take 200 more machines to fully equip the rest of the state. To do that, the state patrol plans to ask the Legislature for an additional $2 million in the next session.