Could A Personal Breathalyzer Help You Avoid A DUI Conviction?

Posted on: 23 February 2015

Drunk driving remains a serious problem in the United States. In 2012, 10,322 people died in alcohol-impaired accidents, so it's unsurprising that law officials continue to clamp down on people who decide to drink and drive. Of course, the easiest way to avoid a DUI arrest is to stick to soft drinks before driving, but drinkers are increasingly turning to technology to help them stay under the limit. Learn more about personal breathalyzers, and find out if these new devices can really help you avoid a conviction.

How your blood alcohol level reflects your ability to drive

Blood alcohol concentration (or BAC) is a term that is common to almost every DUI charge. When a police officer records your BAC with a breathalyzer, he or she is measuring how many grams of alcohol you have in your body for every 100 milliliters of blood. A BAC of 0.10 percent means you have 0.1 grams of alcohol in every 100 milliliters of blood.

Across the United States, your BAC cannot legally exceed 0.08 percent if you intend to drive, and you are 21 or older. Younger drivers must generally observe even stricter standards. What's more, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) would like to see the BAC limit cut to 0.05 percent.

Alcohol quickly inhibits your ability to drive safely. Even at the current legal limit, studies show that alcohol consumption can lead to poor muscle co-ordination, impaired judgement, poor self-control and difficulty concentrating. At this limit, you are 11 times more likely to have an accident than someone who hasn't consumed any alcohol.

Why people are turning to personal breathalyzers

Personal breathalyzers present a useful option for many people who want to drink within the legal limits. These small devices fit in a pocket, purse or briefcase, making it easy to carry the breathalyzer around with you. In many cases, the device links to a smartphone app that displays your BAC result and warns you if the number exceeds the legal limit. To offer more convenience, many of these apps also allow you to order a cab or find a hotel, further discouraging any idea that you then drive under the influence. 

Why personal breathalyzers may not work

Critics of personal breathalyzers complain that the devices could actually increase the risk of a DUI conviction. In some cases, the devices seem to promote excessive drinking because people use the breathalyzers as part of a drinking game where the highest BAC wins. What's more, some of the apps that people use to register the results encourage this type of competition by posting league tables.

That aside, the bigger issue with a personal breathalyzer is that the results are often not as accurate as the owners believe. A comparison of different models on the market showed that each breathalyzer registered a different result for the same person, calling the accuracy of these devices into question. Worryingly, some experts believe that a personal breathalyzer could lull somebody into a false sense of security and send them out on the road illegally.

How the courts use breath tests

A police officer will often use a portable breath test unit to decide if a driver is under the influence of alcohol, but this device is only the first part of the process. In most states, the police must follow a field test with a formal breathalyzer test for alcohol. To use a breath test as evidence in court, the police must prove that they appropriately calibrated and tested the machine in line with regulations.

Personal breathalyzer tests are unlikely to become admissible in court in defense of a DUI charge. These retail devices do not use the same technology as the machines that the police use, and you would not have any evidence to prove to the court that the device met strict testing and maintenance standards. Even personal breathalyzer manufacturers warn drivers not to make decisions based solely on the reading from their devices.

The other issue with a personal breathalyzer is that many other factors can influence the result. Some devices falsely register other chemicals as alcohol. For example, some of the material that you find in an asthma inhaler can affect the result. Similarly, medical conditions like diabetes, acid reflux and heartburn can all distort the BAC reading.

A personal breathalyzer is a relatively useful way to monitor your BAC, and these devices will give you some idea of how close to the legal limit you are. That aside, it is not advisable to rely on a personal breathalyzer to help you decide if you are over the limit. Realistically, soft drinks, taxi cabs and designated drivers are still your best defenses against a potential DUI charge. Check with a lawyer from a site like for more ideas.