Think you're too drunk to drive? There's an app for that

Friday, September 23, 2011 | 3:22 p.m. CDT; updated 8:20 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 23, 2011
'Show Me My Buzz', an application for smartphones, allows users to estimate their blood alcohol concentration when they input information about their body type and number of drinks they've had. If the user's BAC is over the legal limit, a warning shows on screen and recommends using a designated driver or contacting a local taxi service.

COLUMBIA — No matter how much you've had to drink, you've had too much to drive.

That's the intended message of a new smartphone application released by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

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Free versions of "Show Me My Buzz" — which lets users calculate blood alcohol content — have been released over the past month for Androids and iPhones.

The app asks for information — including weight, gender, number and type of drink and the amount of time spent drinking — to estimate users' blood alcohol level.

It's only an estimate, though. And it will always tell you not to drive, said Sandra Hentges, MoDOT's outreach coordinator. The department wants to emphasize the idea that any amount of alcohol effects your driving ability and that you should always choose a sober ride.

Using smartphones' GPS capabilities, the app can locate the nearest taxi company and provide a phone number.

The app is intended to get people talking about designating sober drivers. In 2010, 207 people were killed and 831 seriously injured in crashes involving a drunken driver, according to MoDOT.

"It's a creative way to get people talking and thinking about drinking and driving and how dangerous it is," Hentges said.

She predicted that people would be surprised how quickly alcohol levels rise above the national legal limit — .08 percent.

MU student Morris said he thought that one of the app's weaknesses is that it relies on standard measurements of alcohol, largely irrelevant if you don't actually know how strong your drink is.

"I would use it for fun," he said.

Morris said he considers himself an average drinker for a college student. He said he drinks 10 to 12 beers on weekend nights. An average weight male must drink three 12 oz. beers in one hour to reach the legal limit.

But Morris said that after drinking three beers, he is by no means drunk.

"Honestly, I think my mind is more relaxed and focused," he said.

He is aware that drunk driving is dangerous, but thinks the legal alcohol limit is too low, adding that most of his friends don't drink and drive.

Jeremy Duke, a counselor in Columbia who specializes in drug and alcohol treatment, predicted that college students will find the app overly complicated and ignore its intended use.

"There has been a history of people who will use BAC counters and think it’s funny to see how drunk they can get," Duke said. "A lot of people who are drinking heavily are not counting their drinks."

Duke uses a BAC chart with his patients to measure and track their level of drinking. He thinks the app would be useful for them or people who already drink responsibly. He is unsure, however, if other people would be motivated to use the app.

From their front-row seats on Broadway, after-bar food vendors have made an informal study of college students' drinking habits.

Dana Hartgrove and Shawnee Perry run a kebab cart on weekend nights. They describe college drinking as predictable.

"They're consistently drunk and their behavior has its problems," Perry said. "It's mostly fun but it gets out of hand. They're rowdy, loud, obnoxious and aggressive."

The vendors said they've seen obviously drunken people getting into cars to drive. Earlier this year, Perry's car was wrecked by a drunken driver who rammed into her at a stoplight at the intersection of Tenth Street and Broadway.

Hartgrove and Perry said they liked the idea of the app but that they doubt it will cut down drunk driving.

"I don't think people would really use it. Why would you use it while you're drinking when you have better things to do?" Perry said.

The app has received mixed reviews online. While some users have reported that they like how easily they can click to call a cab, others have complained that the calculated BAC is inaccurate. that they can only add 12 drinks and that the app is too much work.

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