Could Personal Breathalyzers Reduce Drunk Driving?

February 7th, 2017 by Attorney Julie Butcher

Smartphones are a hazard to drivers, but they could potentially save many lives. Distracted driving is a leading cause of vehicle accidents in Kentucky, and smartphones can be a major distraction. But smartphones may also be a tool to help keep drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel, according to a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Dr. Kit Delgado is an emergency room physician at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia. On every shift he sees the tragic and sometimes deadly consequences of bad decisions, including choosing to drive after drinking. He is also an assistant professor of emergency medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine. In that role he does research to try to reduce the number of bad decisions that lead to drunk driving.

One of his projects is studying DrinkMate, one of a number of personal breathalyzers available to the public that works with smartphones to determine blood alcohol levels. If it works as advertised, it may prevent some of the thousands of vehicle crashes involving drivers who were impaired by alcohol.

Personal breathalyzers have been available for more than twenty years, and over time they have become easier to use, cheaper and more accurate. They’re basically miniaturized versions of what police officers use on the side of the road. The biggest difference is that some of them are linked to smartphones.

They retail online from $35 to $140. After you buy the device, you download an app to your smartphone, turn it and the device on, blow into the device which measures your breath alcohol concentration (BAC) and estimates your blood-alcohol level; the readings appear on your phone.

  • You can quantify and track your BAC levels over time.
  • You can share those readings with others, who may encourage you not to drive and find another way for you to get where you need to go.
  • For parents who don’t trust their kids, one app has the user submit to a measurement at given times and takes a picture so it’s clear who is submitting to the test; the app records the time, location and BAC level.

Some of the apps include links to Uber or Lyft to make it easier to get a ride home.

As part of a study, the Colorado Department of Transportation distributed smartphone breathalyzers to 225 randomly chosen bar patrons.

  • The average breath-alcohol level from the 4,823 measurements was 0.087 (above the 0.08 legal limit).
  • 84% agreed that having such a device lowered their risk of driving while impaired.

Dr. Delgado is studying personal breathalyzers’ accuracy. He says early models were not accurate, and he’s conducting a study under laboratory conditions to compare the smartphone devices available to the public to models sold to law enforcement.

He’s also studying how they could be used as part of a strategy to cut the number of drunk drivers. This spring they will test behavioral strategies that use these breathalyzers, text message reminders, rideshare app credits and behavioral incentives to cut impaired driving and excessive drinking.  Bar patrons who admit to drinking and driving in the past will be part of the study.

Dr. Delgado says there are prototypes for wearable wristband devices that estimate your BAC through a sensor on your skin and transmit the information to a smart phone. As the technology improves, it may be integrated into watches.

Until this technology is fully developed and widely accepted, we will need to keep drunk drivers off the road the old fashioned way. If you drink too much, don’t drive. If someone with you is drinking too much, don’t let them drive. Find another way for them to get home.

If you or a family member has been injured by a drunk driver in Kentucky, you can rely on the Julie Butcher Law Office, which has extensive experience handling the claims of those injured in vehicle accidents. Call us at 859-233-3641 or fill out our contact form so we can talk about the circumstances of your case and how we might help your family obtain compensation for your injuries.