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Talking Urinal Cakes – To Stop Drunk Drivers?

“Is that person talking to me?” and “What is a woman doing in the men’s toilets?” are just two of the questions men who have had too much to drink may be asking around the country if a novel idea to deter people who have had too much to drink from getting behind the wheel shows positive results.

This new approach was tried out in 10 bars and restaurants in Michigan leading up to the 4th of July holiday, when urinals were fitted with talking deodorizing cakes using an attention-grabbing female voice advises patrons to call a taxi or a friend if they’ve had too much to drink to risk getting behind the wheel. The audio device goes on to ask patrons to wash their hands.

Female voice the preferred option for talking urinals

Researchers decided to use a female voice in the men’s toilets for the simple reason that studies have consistently shown both men and women prefer female voices. The reasons for that preference are less clear, but researchers believe it may be down to evolutionary purposes.

In anticipation of the Fourth of July holiday, some counties in Michigan are trying a unique approach. Urinals in 10 bars and restaurants are being outfitted with an audio device that asks patrons to call a cab or a friend if they are too drunk to drive – and to wash their hands.

The 10 restaurants and bars in Michigan that collaborated with Michigan’s Licensed Beverage Association, as well as local law enforcement agencies, were spread across four counties, and included the Detroit metropolitan area. While Oregon escaped with no traffic fatalities in the 30-hour period surrounding this year’s 4th of July celebrations, according to Oregon Highway Patrol figures, Michigan suffered a nightmare year in 2011, when:

  • Eight people died over the 4th of July weekend
  • Of those eight, three people were legally drunk when the fatal crash occurred
  • In all, 319 people in Michigan—more than a third of all 2011 traffic fatalities in the state–were killed by drivers impaired with alcohol or drugs

Urinal cakes…uhh, what about the women?

While the specific reasons for installing the motion-activated talking deodorizing cakes only in men’s restrooms weren’t given, it seems likely that the statistics regarding those most likely to drink and drive supply the answer. In Michigan, and across the country, men are far more likely than women to get behind the wheel after having one or two too many, although there is a worrying trend in the rate of women DUII arrests. National safety data confirms that:

  • Men are involved in about eight out of every 10 drunk driving accidents.
  • Men are three times more likely than women to get behind the wheel when drunk.
  • The amount of alcohol being consumed by men involved in drunk driving accidents before the crash is actually going up, according to a 2008 study at Washington State University.
  • While drunk driving rates have been forced steadily down over the past 30 years through stringent enforcement of DUII laws, the number of women being arrested for DUII has actually increased.

Make them smile, but make them think

Michigan Office of Highway Safety Director Michael L. Prince said the the urinal cakes are designed to get men’s attention in a humorous way, but to get them thinking  about the seriousness of the message received. “Not only do we want to turn some heads and get people talking, we hope everyone takes the message to heart,” Prince said.

Melody Kindraka, with the Office of Highway Safety Planning, agrees with Prince. Kindraka said, “We hope that by using surprise and a little bit of humor in a unique location will make a lasting impression on every male that hears the message.”

How do these prevent drunk driving?

The urinal cakes don’t actually measure a man’s blood alcohol content. Instead, the message is activated by motion sensors and is intended to make every man think about the potential consequence of drinking and then driving.

A Detroit radio station who witnessed the launch of the pilot scheme said the message goes something along the lines of a female voice that says:

  • “Had a few drinks? Maybe a few too many?”
  • Then the woman’s voice asks the (probably stunned and confused) man to “…do everyone else a favor.”
  • The message concludes with a suggestion that the man should either call a cab or ask a sober friend for a ride home.

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association jointly sponsored the talking urinal cakes test. Executive Director Scott T. Ellis hopes the message will get through, in spite of its seemingly light-hearted approach. “At first it may be seen as humorous, but the seriousness of the message will stand out and encourage patrons to find a safe ride home,” according to Ellis.

This isn’t the first time talking urinal deodorizing cakes have been tried. In 2007, New Mexico deployed about 500 of them in bar and restaurant restrooms across the state, because like Michigan, almost eight out of every 10 drunk driving accidents in New Mexico involve a man.

In Oregon, there are stiff penalties for drinking and then driving, but no penalty is as severe as that paid by families who lose a loved one in a drink-driving crash. Innocent road users frequently pay that price, through absolutely no fault of their own, and those that are left behind are also left with medical bills and no income to pay them.

If you or a member of your family has been a victim of a drunk driver, you owe it to yourself and your family to contact a Portland personal injury attorney with experience in drunk driving lawsuits. A good drunk driving accident lawyer will explain your options for recovering medical expenses, lost wages and compensation for pain and suffering and loss of companionship, in the event of a fatality. Most importantly, they will answer your questions and guide you through the complicated process of holding the drunk driver liable, and getting you and your family the compensation you deserve.