Police use ‘BAT Mobile’ as weapon against drunk drivers

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana safety officials are working to provide law enforcement agencies across the state with access to high-tech, mobile Breath Alcohol Testing units that sharply reduce the time it takes police to process and arrest DWI suspects.

The Baton Rouge Police Department became the first agency in the state to receive one of the $350,000 vehicles, paid for with a grant from the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. Members of the Baton Rouge Police Department quickly used the initials of the bus-like Breath Alcohol Testing vehicle to name it the “BAT Mobile” and used it to process 248 DWI suspects in its first 12 weeks in the field.

Police drive the vehicle close to sobriety checkpoints they establish and to events and areas where drunken driving is likely to be a problem. Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, said the BAT vehicles help rid highways of drunken drivers by shortening the time it takes to test and process DWI suspects.

“Without technology such as the BAT unit, an arresting officer often has to transport suspects to a police station or sheriff’s office to be tested. With the vehicle, officers can on the spot conduct breath alcohol concentration tests and check to see if suspects have prior DWI arrests,” LeBlanc said.

The LHSC is in the process of funding a BAT unit for the Monroe area. While the units are assigned to a specific law enforcement department, they are shared with surrounding parish agencies. The Monroe unit will be available, via a memorandum of understanding, to law enforcement agencies in 13 parishes.

Drunk driving continues to be a stubborn problem in Louisiana. In 2008, 49 percent of the 451 traffic fatalities in the state were estimated to be alcohol related. Almost 88 percent of those killed had either consumed alcohol themselves or were driving with a person who had consumed alcohol.

The vehicle includes two breath testing stations that can run up to 12 breath tests per hour. It is also equipped with interior and exterior video cameras, computers to look up a suspect’s arrest record, facilities to collect and store blood evidence, and can accommodate nine or more officers.

“These vehicles use modern technology to help law enforcement officers quickly and efficiently remove drunken drivers from our roads,” LeBlanc said. “The combination of strict enforcement and education is the key to reducing the number of people killed by drunk drivers in Louisiana.”

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