Americans drink and drive 121 million times a year.
And it's a well-documented fact that drunk driving accounts for almost 30% of all traffic deaths annually.
So, it's not surprising that apps with accompanying hardware (also known as breathalyzers) are being marketed that allow drivers to determine when they've consumed so much alcohol that they've exceeded legal blood-alcohol levels.
Do they work?
It depends – at least that's the finding of a recent research effort.
Some are fairly accurate – others, not so much.
The latter group of devices are a problem – because drivers use them to determine if they are fit to drive.
The study, published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, looked at the accuracy of six such devices (DriveSafe, BACtrack Mobile Pro and BACtrack VIO, Alcohoot, Floome, and Drinkmate) comparing results from those devices with those from two tests considered the gold-standard in blood alcohol testing - BAC taken from venipuncture, and a police-grade handheld breath testing device.
During the study, 20 moderate drinkers were given doses of vodka at three intervals, with measurements taken after each dose to measure blood-alcohol levels.
All tested devices consistently underestimated blood-alcohol levels by more than 0.01%, though some devices performed better than others. Two of the devices failed to detect levels above 0.08% (the legal limit in most states) more than half the time.
Since the study's completion – one of the flawed devices has been removed from the market, and other models have been redesigned with newer technology.
It is unclear from the study which of the devices failed to accurately record blood-alcohol levels.
The moral of the story? If you decide to rely on personal breathalyzers when you drink – beware. Their reliability varies considerably.
The far better solution – find a sober designated driver.
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