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Will Personal Breathalyzer Devices Help Curb Impaired Driving?

Oct. 23, 2014
3 mins
A man reaches for the volume dial while driving his car

Impaired driving continues to be one of the top traffic concerns not only for law enforcement officials but basically anyone concerned with safe and responsible driving.

While police-reported impaired driving incidents may vary depending on several factors such as legislative changes, law enforcement practices and even changing attitudes, 25 to 40 percent of all Criminal Code matters dealt with by the courts are for alcohol-related driving offences, according to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada.

Clearly, there is plenty of work that needs to be done on top of all the promotions and safety blitzes still being undertaken such as Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere (RIDE) and numerous campaigns from organizations similar to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Will the use of personal breathalyzer devices help in that effort?

Police forces across the country and MADD Canada among others caution against the use of personal breathalyzer devices largely because they want to separate drinking and driving altogether. Other reasons include questionable accuracy and the fact that it may provide a false sense of security to users. But recent advances in breathalyzer technology may prompt further discussion, consideration and perhaps a change in opinion.

Of the four main breathalyzer technologies available today, fuel-cell-based breathalyzers have been proven in tests to be more accurate than oxide-based semiconductor models, electrochemical/infrared breathalyzers or the disposable versions.

MADD Canada acknowledges on its website that while it does not recommend single-use personal breathalyzers, or endorse any particular brand of personal breathalyzers, that the multiple-use personal breathalyzers based on fuel-cell technology provide a good level of accuracy and reliability when the manufacturers' instructions and maintenance requirements are followed precisely.

It's no coincidence that models used by the police or courts are based on fuel-cell sensors.

The first smartphone breathalyzer, the car key-sized Breathometer, which plugs into a headphone jack and works with hardware to help the mobile app measure your blood alcohol, is going to get an upgrade with fuel-cell technology. Available in November, the Breeze breathalyzer will feature an updated mobile app for iOS and Android, which uses Bluetooth to read a user’s blood alcohol content and provide an estimate for how long it will take them to get back to zero. If you’ve had one too many, the Breeze app will even call up an Uber car.

This continuing innovation and the increase in the number of models on the market lists well over 100-- are part of the reason that WinterGreen Research forecasts that the portable breathalyzer market will reach $3.2 billion in 2018 up from $285 million in 2012.

It needs to be pointed out that the safest way to operate a motorized vehicle is by avoiding alcohol and other drugs completely. However, using a personal breathalyzer could serve as a guideline. While a breathalyzer will only estimate the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream, experts say blood alcohol content is not a totally reliable gauge of intoxication and medical factors plus age, sex, weight and alcohol tolerance must also be taken into consideration.

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