Three best breathalyzers
One of the worst decisions any adult can make is to drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Basic motor skills are severely impaired, which can lead to serious property damage, injuries, even death. The legal aspect of drunk driving is just as bad, beginning with serious fines, possible felony charges, incarceration, and the revoking of driving privileges. Getting charged with a DUI is no laughing matter.
Fortunately, there are products on the market today that can help friends, bartenders, and party hosts stop an intoxicated driver from getting behind the wheel. Personal breathalyzers work much like their professional counterparts used by law enforcement and medical personnel. A user blows into a mouthpiece connected to a small analyzer, and the blood alcohol count (BAC) is displayed a few seconds later.
Different states have different BAC limits for legal sobriety, but typically a reading of .08 or higher might warrant an arrest for DUI. There are many factors that can affect a person's BAC, including gender, size, and metabolic rate, but a personal breathalyzer should produce a fairly accurate result before the tester gets behind the wheel, accepts a ride home, or calls a cab.
When shopping for a personal breathalyzer, here are some important considerations and features to look for.
Considerations when choosing breathalyzers
While some may question the purpose of a personal breathalyzer since driving while intoxicated is known to be illegal, others see the wisdom in evaluating one's BAC while he or she can still make informed decisions. A good party host, for example, can ask guests to agree to a breathalyzer test before leaving for the evening. A bar patron can decide when to stop consuming alcohol and allow their BAC to ramp down over time. Here are some other important considerations:
Reality versus perception: Many people who consume alcohol may feel perfectly normal after a few mixed drinks or several beers. They might feel a pleasant "buzz" but otherwise, believe they could drive home. A personal breathalyzer provides a realistic BAC result that distinguishes between buzzed and legally intoxicated.
Alcohol tolerance: A 250-pound male and a 100-pound female have different levels of alcohol tolerance and metabolism that will affect their overall BAC. Using an accurate breathalyzer will let people of all shapes and sizes know their true alcohol consumption limits. For some, the cutoff line might be two beers with a meal, while others might tolerate a few more than that before becoming legally intoxicated.
To drive or not to drive: It isn't illegal for a party guest to consume alcohol to the point of intoxication as long as that person isn't permitted to get behind the wheel of a vehicle. A personal breathalyzer can quickly determine if a guest or patron is sober enough to legally drive home or requires a designated driver or taxi service.
Not all personal breathalyzers are alike, but the differences between models can be very subtle. Some are designed for occasional use, with limited battery life and short-lived sensors. Others are built to perform multiple tests and include a generous supply of disposable mouthpieces. It's important to remember than even a professional-grade personal breathalyzer is no match for the official breathalyzers used by law enforcement and medical professionals. Here are some important feature to look for when shopping for personal breathalyzers:
Fuel cell sensors vs. semiconductor oxide sensors: There are two common technologies used to analyze the amount of alcohol molecules in a tester's breath. The more expensive and more accurate method involves fuel cell sensors. The less expensive method uses semiconductor oxide sensors. Both methods will yield a BAC result for testers to use, but fuel cell sensors tend to last longer.
Active or passive testing: Legal breathalyzer tests often require testers to blow into a tube for several seconds while a sample is measured. This is considered an active BAC test. Many personal breathalyzers use this same method, and the results are generally accurate and free of potential contamination. Some personal breathalyzers use a passive method, which involves blowing into an analyzer unit from an inch or so away. A passive breathalyzer result can be contaminated by atmospheric conditions, which can affect its accuracy.
Disposable mouthpieces: It's important to keep the testing environment as free of contaminants as possible, so using a disposable mouthpiece or straw every time is a good idea. The better personal breathalyzers provide sanitized disposable mouthpieces for each tester. Replacement mouthpieces should be available from the manufacturer at a nominal cost.
One-button operation: Taking a BAC test while potentially under the influence of alcohol can be challenging. Many personal breathalyzers make the testing process much easier by providing audio and visual cues, plus simple one-button operation. The display panel should also be easy to read.
Breathalyzer prices: Retail prices for personal breathalyzers vary widely. A basic disposable or keychain model can cost less than $20, but accuracy is a major concern. These chemical-based testers can provide false positives or negatives, and we don't recommend them. Mid-range breathalyzers that cost $2 to $50 tend to use semiconductor oxide sensors, which means accuracy can still be a little hit or miss. These models offer the same basic features as their more expensive counterparts, including disposable mouthpieces, LCD displays, and a discreet, compact design. High-end breathalyzers cost between $50 and $200. Many of these professional-grade models use more accurate fuel cell sensors. These can handle hundreds of tests before needing to be recharged and recalibrated.
Q. Can the results of a personal breathalyzer be used as evidence in court?
A. The short answer is no. Only field tests performed on professional-grade breathalyzers or blood tests conducted by trained medical professionals can be used as evidence in a legal proceeding. There are far too many variables to consider with a personal breathalyzer, including calibration, identity of the test taker, atmospheric conditions, and sensor quality.
Q. I saw disposable breathalyzers by the cash register in a liquor store. Are they reliable?
A. Inexpensive disposable breathalyzers may render a broad "legal or not legal" result for users, but that's about it. They aren't considered legal proof of either sobriety or intoxication and are often considered novelty items rather than legitimate diagnostic tools.
Q. Can someone intentionally or unintentionally skew the results of a personal breathalyzer test?
A. When used as directed, most personal breathalyzers yield a fairly accurate blood alcohol count by analyzing alcohol molecules present in the test taker's breath. If the test taker ingests more alcohol or alcohol-based mouthwash just before the test, the results could skew artificially higher. A sudden burp could also skew the results. Cold weather can also affect readings. However, it's much more difficult to achieve a lower BAC reading through dubious methods, such as chewing gum or using breath mints.
Breathalyzers we recommend
Best of the best: BACtrack S80 Professional Breathalyzer
Our take: Provides fast, accurate results for multiple tests or users. Most professional model for personal use.
What we like: Uses advanced fuel cell sensor for better accuracy. Performs numerous tests per charge. Simple one-button operation.
What we dislike: On the expensive side. Must be recalibrated annually.
Best bang for your buck: EEK-Brand Professional Digital Breathalyzer
Our take: A more affordable breathalyzer that still provides fast, consistent test results. Fits discreetly in purse or coat pocket.
What we like: Easy to operate. Compact design can be carried discreetly. Includes ten mouthpieces.
What we dislike: Uses less accurate semiconductor oxide sensors. Beep is very loud.
Choice 3: AlcoHAWK Elite Slim Digital Breathalyzer
Our take: Can be held discreetly in the hand, so ideal for taking readings before leaving a party or nightclub.
What we like: Slim profile, very portable. Easy-to-read large LED display. One-button operation.
What we dislike: Limited battery life. Variable accuracy. Readings can take longer than average.
Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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