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GEAR AND GADGETS

Five Travel Accessories That Take to the Highway

March 07, 1993|JUDI DASH | Dash is former travel editor of The Record in Hackensack, N.J. Her Gear and Gadgets column appears monthly in the Travel section.

Each year, about 24,000 people are killed and 560,000 injured in alcohol-related auto accidents nationwide. High alcohol consumption and driving clearly don't mix. But how do you know what's too much?

A California company that manufactures breath-analysis equipment for law enforcement agencies has developed an inexpensive, portable, do-it-yourself alcohol breath tester designed for the social drinker. Called Final Call, the single-use device consists of a four-inch glass tube containing three bands of chemically treated yellow crystals, two yellow end-caps and an inflatable yellow balloon. Ten minutes after his or her final drink, an individual blows into the balloon, releases the breath into the tube, then waits several minutes. The yellow crystal bands turn green in the presence of alcohol. If one yellow band turns green, which indicates a 0.05% blood-alcohol level, driving may be impaired; two or more green bands indicates a blood-alcohol level of 0.10%, the legal limit in most states (the limit in California is 0.08%).

For the sake of science, I tested Final Call several times, both before and after drinking. Before alcohol consumption, none of the yellow bands turned color. After consuming two two-ounce servings of Scotch with Diet Sprite, two yellow bands turned a dull olive color, indicating a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit. I obediently stayed home and watched TV.

Final Call, $2.49 individually, $11.50 for a five-pack, $22 for a 10-pack, is available at grocery stores and pharmacies, or through the manufacturer, U.S. Alcohol Testing of America, Inc.; (800) 753-4625.

Even a short time in a hot automobile can be lethal to audiocassette tapes. Severe warping can occur after just one afternoon on a sun-struck dashboard, in a stuffy glove compartment or car tape player. Sony has solved the problem with an audiocassette tape, the UXturbo, that the company says can withstand temperatures of up to 239 degrees before deforming.

I took three regular cassette tapes and three UXturbos on a trip to Nashville, Tenn., and purposely left them all in the hot sun on the dashboard of my rental car for two days. Two of the three regular tape casings warped, and the tape in one of the cassettes deposited brown goo on the dashboard. The three UXturbo tapes stayed, and played, as good as new.

Sony UXturbo audiocassettes are available at record stores in lengths of 60 minutes ($2.99), 90 minutes ($3.99) and 100 minutes ($4.99).

It won't change a tire, but this compact electric compressor will inflate one--a boon for roadside emergencies. The 16-foot cord of the portable air inflater plugs into a car's cigarette lighter socket, and the device shuts off automatically once a pre-set inflation level has been reached.

The inflater's plastic housing includes an emergency flasher, a pull-out flashlight and adapters for pool toys, air mattresses and other inflatables. The compressor also can be used for deflating.

The Take-Along Air Inflater, (45905M) is $59.95 from Hammacher-Schlemmer; (800) 543- 3366. (The price, as with most mail-order item listings, does not include postage and handling.)

Another neat car-lighter plug-in is the flexible lamp made by Osram, a German manufacturer. I used the manufacturer's sample in the process of testing it, and became so dependent on it that I bought one. Called Copilot, the lamp has an eight-inch, flexible gooseneck arm and tungsten-halogen bulb that beams a glare-free spotlight. A large three-position knob makes it easy to switch the lamp on and off, and to remove the back for replacing the bulb.

I use the Copilot for reading written directions or maps in the dark--tasks that can be difficult with my car's weak overhead light. And since the Copilot does not light up the entire interior of the car, it's safer to use than the overhead light while driving. The only disadvantage of the lamp is that it will not work when the car's power is off, so it's a good idea to have a flashlight along as well for road emergencies.

Copilot is $33.70 from Executive Travelware; (800) 397-7477.

With so many items to plug into car-lighter sockets, here's a helpful product. The Tandem Jack plugs into the lighter to create two lighter sockets.

The Tandem Jack (M789) is $9 from Herrington, a New Hampshire mail order firm; (800) 622-5221.

Ever misplace your car in a parking lot or forget which way was out during a walk in the woods? The Wayfinder digital electronic compass can help with both problems. The compass is easier to use than most and can be stationed in its adjustable suction-cup windshield mount (the back-lighted liquid crystal display read-out makes it visible at night), or detached and carried in the hand or on a belt.

Here's how it works in a parking lot: When you get out of your car, aim the compass at your destination (such as a mall entrance) and push the "set" button. The needle will swing from north to the mall-door direction and lock there. Take the compass with you, and when you leave the mall, exit the same doorway and turn the compass so the locked-in needle is pointing toward your body. The line of the needle indicates the way you walk to get back to your car. For hiking, point the compass in the direction you're bound and push the button. On the way back, again, follow the opposite heading from which you started out. Confused? The manufacturer's instruction manual takes you step-by-step through the process. The Wayfinder comes with a built-in belt clip and two batteries.

The Wayfinder, (PV112) is $100 from The Sharper Image; (800) 344-4444.

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