We’ve heard a lot in Alabama recently about the ignition interlock devices that will soon be a routine part of punishment for those facing arrest for DUI.
However, less discussed is the fact that more and more drivers really are trying their best to be responsible. Evidence of this is revealed in the skyrocketing sales for personal, portable breathalyzers. These are not individuals who are court-ordered to use these devices. Rather, these are drivers who want to make sure they are well within the range of safe driving before they get behind the wheel after drinking.
In theory, this shows a great deal of personal initiative. However, as experienced DUI defense attorneys will tell you, even the breathalyzers used by police agencies tend to be inaccurate. We know this because we have successfully fought a fair number of arrests on these grounds.
The accuracy of these personal alcohol monitoring devices varies just as much as their cost – somewhere between $30 and $300, on average. One must consider also that blood-alcohol content can rise after you get behind the wheel. So even if the reading was on-point at the time you took it, you could be technically over the limit if you are later stopped by a police officer.
In fact, most companies that sell these devices expressly use the disclaimer that their product may not match up to the models used by police.
What’s more, the results of these machines are not admissible in court for your defense. It’s not enough to say that you were trying to be responsible in testing your blood-alcohol level before you started to drive. All that matters is what your BAC actually was at the time you were stopped.
And yet, the machines have been wildly popular. Wintergreen Research market analysis reported that $285 million worth of these devices were sold in 2011. Globally, sales are expected to hit $3 billion by 2018.
Some products may indeed be more reliable than others. Wired.com recently ran a feature comparing various models. Unsurprisingly, the more expensive the product, the greater the reliability. The AlcoMate AccuCell AL9000, for example, was reported to consistently be 0.01 percent higher than the readings offered by police technology.
But then there was the AlcoHawk Pro, which at a cost of $160 returned consistently high readings that were sometimes 0.09 percentage points higher than what they should have been. While slightly higher-than-average calibration may not be a bad thing if you’re trying to gauge your ability to drive, knowing that the readings are ridiculously high probably isn’t going to help much.
And then there are the readings that are all over the map. The BreathKey, for example, cost $70, attaches to a key chain and is marketed as a convenient device. But it does little good when, as the Wired.com reporter pointed out, “it’s actually a random number generator.”
While there are those who would argue using something is better than using nothing, this isn’t true when such devices may offer up a false sense of confidence.