A whole industry has sprung up around portable breathalyzer devices that can measure your blood alcohol content (BAC) on the fly – and some of them are small enough to slip into a pocket, a knapsack, a purse or place on a keychain so that you can carry it with you to a bar, ballgame or club.
Are they any good? Frankly, it’s hard to say. The makers of some of the top-rated “pocket breathalyzer” devices say that their models are accurate within a 0.0001% margin of error – but only when used correctly. That can be a lot harder to do than you might think.
There are a lot of different factors that can affect their accuracy
The accuracy of pocket breathalyzers can be affected by a lot of different things, which means that you may not get precise or consistent readings from them. For example:
- Calibration and maintenance can be an issue: Pocket breathalyzers require regular calibration to ensure accurate readings, and many users may not be aware of this – or they may simply forget to keep up with the maintenance.
- Some models wear out faster than others: Breathalyzers that use fuel cell sensors are more reliable and last longer than those that use semiconductor sensors. Many people may not even know which kind of device they have, or even be aware that they can wear out. (Plus, the devices with fuel cell sensors are more expensive, so a lot of people may simply not be able to afford them.)
- They’re more prone to “user errors” when you’re intoxicated: Drinking affects everything from your coordination and comprehension levels to your judgment. If you’re inebriated, you may have a very hard time blowing into the device with the appropriate force, creating the right seal with your mouth or avoiding other mistakes that affect the quality of your reading.
- You may use them too soon: Your BAC rises for a while after your last drink, so you have to wait at least 20 minutes after drinking to test yourself if you want an accurate reading. If you test too soon, you could still end up over the legal limit once you hit the road.
Pocket breathalyzers can be helpful tools if you want to gain a general understanding of your BAC levels. However, their limitations and potential inaccuracies should be recognized – especially if that’s the only thing standing between you and a drunk driving charge.