Breathalyzer Apps: How Effective Are They?
By: Good2GoPublished: December 9, 2014
Police officers use breathalyzers during DUI stops to test the blood alcohol content (BAC) of a driver suspected of drunk driving. Now, drivers can have that same power right at their fingertips before even entering their vehicles. Breathalyzer mobile apps and devices are hitting the market to help drivers make smarter decisions and to prevent drunk driving.
Some of the top names in mobile breathalyzers currently on the market include: Breathometer, Alcohoot, and BACtrack. But do they really work, and how effective are they compared to law enforcement-grade breathalyzers?
How do breathalyzers work?
Breathalyzers have been around for decades, but in today’s on-the-go society, it makes sense that companies would develop mobile versions of a tried-and-true police tool. Breathalyzers are used to measure the amount of alcohol in a driver’s breath. They do not measure your BAC which is a common misconception and can be determined by a blood sample.
There are four main breathalyzer technologies in use today: fuel cell-based breathalyzers, oxide-based semiconductor breathalyzers, electrochemical/infrared breathalyzers and disposable breathalyzers.
Among the growing list of personal breathalyzers, those that use fuel cell-based technology seem to have much higher accuracy rates and are used by law enforcement.
When you blow into the breathalyzer, a chemical reaction takes place in the fuel cell, which causes the ethanol content of your breath to be oxidized. This in turn generates an electrical current. The more ethanol that is oxidized, the stronger the current. The amount of current generated is then translated into a BAC reading.
How effective are personal breathalyzers?
No device can truly beat the real-deal breathalyzers that police officers and scientists use to test BAC levels, but there are a few personal breathalyzers on the market that are more effective than others. There is even a wearable breathalyzer device that can call you an Uber car to drive you home safely. But use caution. All of these devices aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.
There are a few articles in circulation that test various mobile breathalyzers against each other and law-enforcement grade technology. Each round of testing showed varying results. Some apps tested higher than a participant’s true BAC level while others tested too low – a major red flag if you’re doing a night of heavy drinking.
While these devices come with disclaimers stating that you should not use these apps to help you decide whether or not you should drive – this is exactly what people are doing and inaccurate readings could cost them their lives.
Here’s a roundup of articles testing the top personal breathalyzers:
- Review: Roundup: Drunken Masters
- The Best Personal Breathalyzer (and Why You Shouldn’t Buy One)
- Can Breathalyzer phone apps tell you whether you’re legally drunk?
- KARE 11 Investigates: Smartphone Breathalyzer Apps
While these findings show that a handful of these apps could go toe-to-toe with police-grade breathalyzers, law enforcement officials say these devices and apps can be unreliable, and could potentially lead to drunken driving. Even if you use a breathalyzer app to test your BAC level, you could be under the legal limit and still show signs of impairment. BAC levels aren’t a true indication of intoxication and some of these devices can’t factor in the weight, sex, age, medical conditions and general alcohol tolerance of a driver.
These personal breathalyzers don’t come cheap either. This hardware can range from $50 to $300. And that’s not including the cost of batteries, disposable mouth pieces and the cost of recalibration.
Should you buy a personal breathalyzer?
Before you even consider purchasing your own portable breathalyzer, do your research. All breathalyzers aren’t created equally and if you’re looking to save a few bucks by settling on a chintzy keychain breathalyzer, remember – you get what you pay for.
While it is recommended that you leave the blood alcohol testing to the professionals, if you choose to buy a personal breathalyzer look for these key features:
- High degree of accuracy: Look for models that use fuel-cell technology and have been approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) or the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).
- Easy to use: You’ll most likely be inebriated at the time of use, so an app or device with easy controls will be helpful. The display should also make it easy for you read your results, no matter how much you’ve had to drink.
- Quick start-up: Your breathalyzer device should be ready to use at a moment’s notice, which means it should have low power requirements, and be capable of handling thousands of uses before the batteries need to be changed.
- Convenient calibration: Make sure the company that makes your breathalyzer offers the option to have your hardware returned or swapped out for calibration. This will ensure that your device is in tip-top shape and is performing accurately.
If you plan to invest in a personal breathalyzer, keep in mind these are not the devices that police officers use and the manufacturers recommend you not use these devices to determine if you’re sober enough to drive. A good rule of thumb is if you think you need to take a personal breathalyzer test, it’s time for you to stop drinking.
Use your best judgment and consider alternative modes of transportation if you decide to go out drinking and use these tips to help you avoid a DUI/DWI.
Good2Go wants you to drive safe – and affordably. Find out how you can protect yourself with Good2Go.com auto insurance. Get a car insurance quote today.
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