Special police ‘BAT mobile’ seeks to limit drunk driving

$350,000 mobile unit will allow officers to process suspects more efficiently, according to press release

Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Providence Police Department will use a new blood alcohol testing vehicle, called the BAT Mobile, to more easily process drunk driving incidents in the city, particularly on holidays and weekends.

The Providence Police Department has a new tool to strengthen law enforcement against people drinking and driving: the BAT mobile.

A $350,000 grant from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s Office of Highway Safety allowed PPD to purchase a 40-foot-long vehicle, the blood alcohol testing mobile unit, that consists of “four work stations with computers, two Intoxilyzer 9000 Breathalyzer Instrument stations, a portable LiveScan criminal fingerprint and booking station and four fixed internal surveillance cameras,” according to an Oct. 30 press release. The department used the BAT Mobile for the first time the weekend of Halloween.

The vehicle will be used for holidays, special events and regularly on the weekend to help officers “arrest suspected impaired drivers, test, process and release them without having to travel to their respective police stations,” according to the release.

“A major focus of the Office on Highway Safety is to decrease traffic crash deaths and the severity of serious injuries,” wrote Charles St. Martin, acting chief public affairs officer of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, in an email to The Herald. Though RIDOT operates other programs, including the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, St. Martin wrote that occasionally, “police departments, cities and towns … reach out to us for safety grants,” such as the one the City of Providence received for the BAT Mobile.

Joseph Wendelken, acting public information officer for the Rhode Island Department of Health, wrote in an email to The Herald that he believes addressing drunk driving is important because “every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver.”

“When people drink and drive, they are not only putting their own lives at risk, they are also putting everyone else on the road in serious harm’s way,” Wendelken wrote.

St. Martin wrote that the most up-to-date information available is from 2013, when Rhode Island saw a total of 65 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, 24 of them involving alcohol.

Haley De La Rosa ’17 said that while “there’s definitely a problem,” the large sum used to pay for the BAT Mobile should have been invested differently.

Harry Kettelberger ’19 said that in his hometown of Philadelphia, the spending would have been warranted and could make a difference, but it is less likely to change outcomes in Providence, given the rarity of deaths involving driving under the influence of alcohol. “In the grand scheme of things, it might not help that much,” he said. “The money would have been better spent on improved emergency services instead of trying to get people into trouble.”

Wendelken wrote that the best remedy to the situation is to simply not drive after drinking. “Prior to any drinking, people should always designate a non-drinking driver,” he wrote. “People should never let their friends drive home when they have been drinking, even if it means taking away the keys.”