After years of service to heavy readers, Anne Arundel County libraries will soon start serving heavy drinkers as well. The 13 libraries won't be handing out intoxicating spirits along with mystery novels but, after Dec. 6, anyone over 21 years of age will be able to pick up breath analysis kits to tell if party guests have drunk too much to drive, county officials announced today.
The kits are disposable, and don't need to be returned.
County Executive James Lighthizer said he came up with the idea while talking with a friend about what government can do to fight drunk driving. A little more than 100 persons are arrested on drunk driving charges each month in Anne Arundel and, with Christmas partying coming up, he said, a "positive, proactive" method of keeping drunks from driving is called for, rather than the "reactive and negative" method of arresting drunks who are already driving.
About 1,000 kits will be distributed in the pilot program, Lighthizer said, and then the county will decide whether it works well enough to be continued. The kits, which come in a brilliant yellow bag decorated with a black bolt of lightning and the acronymn CRASH -- for "Create Responsible Alcohol Serving Habits" -- contain:
*Colored balloons to breathe into.
*A plastic tube containing alcohol-sensing crystals.
*A wallet-sized card with the names and telephone numbers of county taxi companies.
*A handout describing how much alcohol people can safely drink.
*A description of state drunk-driving punishments.
*A lapel pin and bumper sticker.
*A brochure describing the Mothers Against Drunk Driving organization.
*A questionnaire to evaluate the program.
The drinker blows into the balloon, then attaches it to a tube filled with three bands of silica gel crystals. The crystals register the presence of alcohol by turning from yellow to green. The kit offers three instructions, depending on the number of bands that change color: "Go Easy," "Go by Bus" or "Go to Bed."
Lighthizer said he hopes this method of calibration will discourage revelers from using the kit to see who can hit the highest score.
County officials said that, while such kits are popular in bars and liquor stores, especially in the New England area, they believe their program to be the first administered by a local government.
The alcohol-testing tubes cost the county about $1 each, and the county already owns large stocks of them, Lighthizer said. The kits are used at the county jail, where inmates on work-release programs are tested when they come in for the evening.
Sgt. Steven Finck of the county police said the number of drunk-driving arrests has steadily increased during the last few years. "We think this is great," Finck said of the program. "We think this is outstanding. Anything that gets them off the road is outstanding."
Jean Heald, president of the state's Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter, also praised the program. It will help increase awareness of drunk driving's dangers, she said, and in many cases will be useful for people who honestly do not know whether or not they have had too much to drink. "It probably will not help that other type that are going to do whatever they feel like doing anytime," she added.