To dissuade kids from drinking on school grounds or at school-sponsored events, some administrators are employing a new type of handheld computerized device: portable alcohol testers.

The latest devices, which are much smaller than the typical Breathalyzers housed in police departments, can test for alcohol on students’ breath or detect its presence using a special sensor that can be scanned across the top of open containers.

School administrators say the palm-sized technology tools provide a safe, convenient, and less obtrusive method for testing students under suspicion of drinking at school.

California’s Corona-Norco Unified School District last year received its first such device from Denver-based Lifeloc Technologies Inc. as part of a community grant, said Maggie Little, assistant to the superintendent of schools.

While the district has yet to use the product—called the FC10 Plus, which sells for $580—to nab students, public demonstrations given by police during school lunch hours have made kids well aware that the technology is out there and that it works, Little said.

“We use it as a deterrent,” she said. “It’s really very preventive.” Now that students have seen the technology in action, district officials hope they will think twice before deciding to drink during school events or show up intoxicated for after-school functions, including dances and sporting events.

David DeRosier, who manages sales for Lifeloc, said the company’s technology is now used in more than 100 districts from coast to coast.

Mark Greif, vice principal of Henley High School in Klamath Falls, Ore., said he’s been using similar testers to investigate students suspected of abusing alcohol for nearly six years.

Originally, the school had used a device called the PBA 3000, a $1,500 alcohol testing apparatus donated by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. But that machine lacked the portable convenience of Lifeloc’s FC Series machines, which Greif said he can carry around in his shirt pocket.

Greif estimates he uses the device as few as three times or as many as 12 times per school year, depending on various situations. For instance, if students are suspected of drinking at a school dance, there is the possibility that it could be used to test several students on a single occasion, he said.

In one of the most serious instances, the technology was used to determine a student’s blood alcohol level (BAL) before calling an ambulance to rush her to the hospital, Greif said. She blew a .34 BAL, more than three times the legal limit in Oregon.

Extreme cases aside, mostly the machine is used to pressure students into telling the truth. “When you get to the point where you have to threaten to use the machine, kids fess up to it,” he said. “I like the kids to come clean and be honest.”

Before the technology was available, Greif often had to rely on admission and body language to determine whether students had been drinking or not. “If they smelled like alcohol, you could suspend them,” he said. But legally, that’s risky business. “For the most part, you had to rely on admission.”

While admission is still the key factor, the technology certainly helps, according to Greif. The FC10 Plus, which spits out instant digital readings in a matter of seconds, provides positive evidence that students have been drinking, he said.

Another reason Greif said he favors the technology is that it can be used to perform a function called passive testing, where instead of providing an exact reading based on a student’s BAL, the device offers a simple positive or negative reading just by waving it over the top of an open container or holding it briefly in front of a student’s mouth.

DeRosier said Lifeloc designed the technology so that administrators and chaperons could administer the tests easily and without encroaching on students’ personal space.

“A student’s personal space is a very big deal,” he said. With the FC Series machines, administrators do not have to pressure students into blowing into the reader. First, they can give a passive test to determine whether a more exact reading is even necessary, he said.

None of the products the company markets to schools exceeds $1,000, DeRosier said. Schools that wish to provide documentation of alcohol violations for legal purposes also might consider Lifeloc’s FC20, which lets users save the readings to be downloaded to a computer and later printed to provide hard evidence of the violation. The FC20 sells for $735.


Lifeloc Technologies Inc.