The Robo-Sommeliers are coming. And that might lead to something good.
Sounds crazy, I know. But bear with me. In June, the PLCB unveiled its new “wine kiosks”—gargantuan vending machines that spit out bottles of pinot like Snickers bars. By the fall, these automated alcohol dispensers will make their Philadelphia debut.
The reaction has been mixed, at best. Aside from some snobby aesthetic concerns about buying wine from a box (and to my knowledge, wine in a box is not among the selections), the kiosk’s most controversial feature is the breathalyzer. To complete a purchase, you swipe your driver’s license, then breathe on a screen that measures blood-alcohol content. If it’s below .02, the vino is yours. No one wants kids buying merlot or drunks flocking to Wegmans to load up when they’re already loaded. To make sure the ID matches the breather, there’s a PLCB employee who’s paid to watch folks blow hot air on camera.
But all this talk of breathalyzers got me thinking, and I have an idea for the PLCB’s next initiative: a machine that would measure your BAC at your favorite watering hole.
No ID swiping. No state-employee peeping.
Would you pay a buck to make sure the two drinks you had with dinner wouldn’t impair you on the drive home? Or, if you’re a little too close to the legal limit, stay for a round of water? Or simply hand your keys to someone else?
Bars are already filled with gadgets. Buffalo-hunting video games equipped with pump-action rifles. Jukeboxes that can search a wireless database for an obscure 80s one-hit wonder. Poker and movie trivia on tabletop touchscreens. If the technology has arrived for vending-machine breathalyzers, why not put them where they could potentially save lives?
Imagine the PLCB initiates a pilot program to help install the machines in a handful of bars. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving would back the effort. If usage is encouraging, the program expands. The breathalyzers bring in enough money to eventually pay for themselves. In a few years, as bars all across the state are equipped, there’s a drop in the number of DUIs.
Imagine if the PLCB and Pennsylvania—consistently ranked among the worst states for drunk driving throughout the past decade—thought outside the (alcohol-dispensing) box for a change?
I’d raise a glass of kiosk wine to that.