New Mexico is hoping to keep drunks off the road by lecturing them at the last place they usually stop before getting behind the wheel: the urinal.
The state recently paid $21 each for about 500 talking urinal deodorizer cakes and has put them in men's rooms in bars and restaurants across the state.
When a man steps up, the motion-sensitive plastic device says, in a woman's voice that is flirty, then stern: "Hey, big guy. Having a few drinks? Think you had one too many? Then it's time to call a cab or call a sober friend for a ride home."
The recorded message ends: "Remember, your future is in your hand."
The talking urinal represents just the latest effort to fight drunken driving in New Mexico, which has long had one of the highest rates of alcohol-related traffic deaths in the nation. (The new tactic is aimed only at men, since they account for 78 percent of all driving-under-the-influence-related convictions in New Mexico.)
"It startled me the first time I heard it, but it sure got my attention," said Ben Miller, a patron at the Turtle Mountain Brewing Co. bar and restaurant. "It's a fantastic idea."
Jim Swatek, who was drinking a beer nearby, said: "You think, `Maybe I should call the wife to come get me.'"
Turtle Mountain Brewing owner Niko Ortiz commended the New Mexico Transportation Department for "thinking way outside the box."
‘We’ve got their total attention’
Department spokesman S.U. Mahesh said the bathroom is a perfect place to get the message across. In the restroom, "guys don't chitchat with other guys," he said. "It's all business. We've got their total attention for 10 to 15 seconds."
Similar urinal cakes have been used for anti-drug campaigns in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Australia, and for anti-DWI efforts on New York's Long Island, said Richard Deutsch of New York-based Healthquest Technologies Inc., which manufactures the devices.
But Deutsch said he believes New Mexico is the only state to buy the devices.
New Mexico had 143 alcohol-related deaths in 2005, for the nation's eighth-highest rate per miles driven. The problem is blamed in part on the wide-open spaces that make it necessary to drive to get anywhere, and the poverty and isolation that can lead people to drink to relieve their boredom or misery.
Also, some have complained that the state has only recently begun to emerge from years of lax enforcement.
Gov. Bill Richardson led a successful push two years ago to require ignition locking devices for anyone convicted of DWI — a first in the nation — and each year the Legislature has agreed on tougher penalties for repeat offenders.
New Mexico also has started a toll-free "drunk buster" hot line, boosted DWI enforcement in problem areas and increased police checkpoints. The state also has a DWI czar.
In November, a wrong-way drunken driver slammed into a car near Santa Fe, killing five family members, authorities said. The governor has since directed state regulators to issue cease-and-desist orders against three airlines to stop serving alcohol on flights to and from New Mexico. The culprit in the fatal wreck had been seen drinking on a flight into Albuquerque hours before the accident.
Ummm ... how’d you get that?
At Turtle Mountain, the urinal cakes have proved so intriguing that three have been swiped already.
"I'm mystified why someone would stick their hand into one of our urinals," Ortiz said. "But I'm sure we'll see them on eBay. Hopefully, the seller will advertise it as, `Stolen from Turtle Mountain.'"