By Ed Pierce, Contributing Editor
Drunk driving is one of the biggest dangers of the road. Over 30 people in the United States are killed every day in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver. For most drivers, this represents a concern they have to contend with from other unknown drivers on the road. For fleets, it can be a serious problem that endangers the safety of both their drivers and their work environment.
While fleets have policies put in place to deal with infractions, most lack the necessary resources to stop drunk driving incidents from happening in the first place. That’s what the team at SOBRsafe hopes to change.
The First Transdermal Alcohol Detection Device
The company, SOBRsafe™, utilizes its patent-pending SOBRcheck™ device, the first of its kind – a preventative transdermal alcohol detection device. Users can place their fingers on a device that’s just a little larger than a computer mouse, and within 10 seconds, it can verify identity and detect the absence or presence of alcohol in your system.
“When people drink, we exhale alcohol through the pores of our skin everywhere on our body, including our fingertips,” says Michael Watson, Chief Revenue Officer and Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing for SOBRsafe. “Our potentially game-changing technology allows us to instantaneously determine whether or not a person has been drinking.”
During testing mode, the light flashes yellow. After only ten seconds, the device returns a result. If the person has been drinking, the device will return a red light and immediately send a message to the adminstrators in the notification list (i.e., their supervisor, HR department, security, etc.) to let them know that someone has arrived at the workplace under the influence. If the person hasn’t been drinking, then they get a green light, and the log indicates that that person has been successfully scanned for alcohol that day.
This technology is particularly beneficial for fleets where a number of vehicles are all stored in a central location. When drivers come to pick their vehicles up for the day, the fleet manager can have the SOBRcheck device available near the location where drivers pick up their keys. Then, before they pick up their keys, they can put their fingers on the device to do a quick scan. In the event that the light turns red to indicate the driver has been drinking, the relevant departments will be notified and the driver won’t be given the keys for the vehicle.
The SOBRcheck device can also be used at the end of the trip as well. When drivers return their keys at the end of their load or the end of their day’s trips, they can use the device to test again. “The second test is important because alcohol tends to come in and out of your system in about four hours on average,” says Watson. “In this way, we can be assured that everybody at the workplace is alcohol-free, and we’ve created an alcohol-free work environment. An alcohol-free workplace is important for any industry, but especially for an industry where the stakes of having alcohol in your system can be so extraordinarily high.”
The SOBRsafe Mission
“Our mission statement at SOBRsafe is to create a safe and healthy work environment, and to save lives,” says Watson. “Our purpose is to be your third-party compliance verifier. We use advanced biometrics to help you create an alcohol-free workplace, and we help you to reduce and secure lower insurance premiums.
“So really, our vision is to create a workplace that focuses on safety and the wellbeing of the worker by ensuring a safer alcohol-free work environment, providing safe roadways for our communities, producing alcohol-free driving experiences for companies, and directing employees to employee assistance programs that need help.”
The SOBRcheck device has already proven to be a powerful tool in negotiating lower insurance premiums. SOBRsafe has an installation in Michigan at a company with 220 workers, including both warehouse workers and drivers. Everyone checks in and out each day to make sure they’re alcohol-free, also testing any time they leave the facility and return during the day.
As a result, SOBRsafe has been able to work with the customer and their insurance carrier to negotiate insurance savings of $254,000 a year. This is based on safety discounts that fall into categories such as general liability, fleet, worker’s comp, and their umbrella policy.
From Law Enforcement to Fleets
Interestingly enough, fleet management wasn’t SOBRsafe’s initial audience. The product was originally designed with law enforcement in mind, focusing on catching drunk drivers at traffic stops. But they quickly realized that the technology was too sensitive to alcohol to allow for a 0.08 BAC, so they pivoted to workplaces that institute a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol.
“There’s a threshold of the device at about a 0.02 equivalent,” says Watson. “The device is a little more accurate than a breathalyzer is. So it will become, I think, the gold standard for ‘yes or no’ to alcohol.”
While the device itself doesn’t detect other drugs, drivers who test positive are referred to a clinic to receive a 15-panel drug test where other drugs can be detected. The hope is that, with technology designed to deter drinking and identify those who cannot control their alcohol abuse, the road will be safer for all drivers.
Increased Alcohol Usage
Drunk driving has always been an issue, but the pandemic exacerbated the problem by facilitating a major increase in alcohol usage. “With regard to COVID and the pandemic, there was a 60% increase in drinking and 34% increase in binge drinking during that same period of time,” says Watson. “Obviously this has resulted in a much more dangerous work situation and much more dangerous situation for Americans overall.”
This is reflected in the numbers of drunk driving among commercial drivers in the US as well. “It’s estimated that about 17% of fleet drivers in the country drink during the work week in America,” says Watson. “There are 56,000 commercial drivers with substance abuse violations each year. That number’s been growing as well, with 24,000 heavy and light trucks involved in alcohol-related fatal accidents.”
Not only does drunk driving affect the health and well-being of the drivers, but it also poses significant damages to the companies that employ them. “The average cost of an accident to the company is about $148,000,” says Watson. “If the accident involves a death, one single fatality, it’s as much as $7 million.”
Pressure from Two Sides
Fleet managers have to contend with pressure from both sides regarding drunk drivers. Faced with a driver shortage, many fleet managers are wary of imposing more rules and exacerbating the driver shortage by making it more difficult to be employed. Unfortunately, what this really leads to is negligent retention. If fleets know they have a problem and continue to employ people with that problem, then they often receive incredibly high damages in court as a result.
What SOBRsafe hopes to accomplish with their technology is not to punish drivers, but rather to provide them with access to the help they need before they get involved in a potentially life-threatening accident.
“I look at us as the tip of the spear for an Employee Assistance Program, which most large fleets have,” says Watson. It’s not about detecting somebody and firing them. It’s about detecting somebody early and getting them help so that they can come back to work and be a more productive worker, a more productive citizen.”