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How accurate are those smartphone breathalyzers and apps?

Man blowing into breathalyzer alcohol test device in front of red car

If you're relying on an app and a personal breathalyzer to tell you whether you're safe to drive after a few drinks, you may want to rethink this strategy.

New research shows that smartphone app-supported breathalyzers produce wildly different results.

In a small experiment, 20 people drank alcohol then tested 6 popular breathalyzers on the market. Once the results were added up and averaged out, researchers realized that breathalyzers by different manufacturers rarely gave the same results. The range was wide.

On the low side, the DRIVESAFE Evoc gave the group an average BAC of about 0.07. On the high side, the BACtrack Mobile Pro reported an average of 0.10 BAC for the same group. Meanwhile, the legal limit is 0.08 BAC.

In short, the study found one breathalyzer can say you're fine to drive while another says you're over the limit. While it's unwise to put your full trust in a breathalyzer test you bought over the counter or online, some devices are more reliable than others.

Not all breathalyzers are equal

Researchers supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked the accuracy of the breathalyzers tested by noting how closely they matched with police-grade breathalyzer results and BAC blood tests.

The BACtrack Mobile Pro delivered the most trusted results, researchers said. DrinkMate and DRIVESAFE Evoc often delivered results below what was detected by police-grade devices.

Other devices in the experiment — Intoxilyzer, Floome, and Alcohoot — fell somewhere in the middle. At the conclusion of the study, the authors called on the government for action.

They made two recommendations.

Recommendation 1

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should enforce alcohol breath testing device rules that require companies to provide the public with more information about the product and company.

Recommendation 2

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should investigate the makers of commercial, app-supported breathalyzers for deceptive claims of accuracy.

Am I too drunk to drive?

If you can't trust a breathalyzer to give you accurate BAC results, how can you tell if you're too drunk to drive?

To start, if you think you might be too intoxicated to drive, don't risk it. Trust your instincts and call an Uber, Lyft, taxi, or have a friend drive you home.

Other signs that someone may be too impaired or intoxicated to drive include:

  • Smelling like alcohol
  • Poor coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurry vision
  • Significant changes in behavior.

If you're still unsure if you or someone else is okay to drive, you could do an informal version of a field sobriety test like walking in a straight line. Another test is seeing whether you can keep your balance on one foot for 30 seconds while your other foot is slightly raised and your arms are at your side.

Your freedom matters

In the end, a breathalyzer's test results are not the final word on whether a person is too drunk to drive — even if the test was administered by a police officer.

Many studies have evaluated breathalyzers used by police. When used properly, maintained sufficiently, and interpreted correctly, the equipment is usually able to provide accurate results.

Police, however, don't always have access to such conditions. Budget cuts reduce maintenance and officer education. Also, it's easy to make errors during the hectic environment of roadside sobriety checks.

Meanwhile, a police officer doesn't need a BAC test to arrest you for driving under the influence. You can be charged with driving while impaired even if your BAC is under 0.08.

If a police officer thinks your "normal faculties are impaired," he or she may consider charging you with DWI.

Our attorneys understand Northeast Florida's legal system

A lot of people facing DUI charges think that you can't escape the evidence provided by a breathalyzer test. Some give up fighting charges before their first court hearing.

At Aguilar & Sieron, P.A., we know that breathalyzer tests are far from the bullet-proof evidence the district attorney wants you to think.

For about 70 years, our firm has successfully defended hundreds of clients against DUI charges in Northeast Florida.

We've dealt with local prosecutors in Clay, Flagler, Putnam, Saint Johns, Bradford, Union, Baker, Duval, and Alachua counties and beyond. We know how they work.

Criminal defense attorneys Mark Sieron and Bob Aguilar are among the most highly-regarded legal teams in the state.

If you or a loved one is facing a drunk driving charge, contact us for a free case consultation. We will listen to the details of the arrest and charges and help you weigh your best legal options going forward.

Call or email us today. We're ready to listen and prepared to help.

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