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Who called the cops ? 

After testing 12 personal breathalyzers against the alcohol-detecting devices used by law enforcement, it’s clear that the BACtrack  is the most accurate and reliable and easiest to use personal breathalyzer that you can buy. When it comes to matching the results measured by police equipment, this device comes closer than anything else we tested. It’s relatively affordable and has everything you need to start testing right away, including replaceable mouthpieces—which are good for accuracy and hygiene, but definitely an ongoing cost to consider. We chose the S80 after testing breathalyzers in several separate drinking sessions last year and this year. In those tests, we cooperated with experienced members of law enforcement in two police departments, and interviewed a research physician who specializes in toxicology.

We tested 12 personal breathalyzers against official devices used by police officers to find the best one. The BACtrack S90 is the most accurate and reliable personal breathalyzer. Its readings were closest to the results of police equipment, compared with other breathalyzers we tested. The only drawback is a need for replaceable mouthpieces, which is a good thing for hygiene and accuracy but comes at an extra ongoing cost.

We’ve shifted our position on these products. At that time, we believed you should never trust a personal breathalyzer to tell you whether you’re too drunk to drive—you shouldn’t drive if you’ve been drinking, period. But we’re grateful to our readers, who shared several valid examples to convince us that we hadn’t considered every circumstance in which a personal breathalyzer could be a useful, responsible tool. So first, let’s set some ground rules before we say what makes this product the best at what it does.

The pick

BACtrack S80 Pro
Accurate, simple, portable, easy to share, and reliable (as long as it’s calibrated every 1,000 uses), the BACtrack S80 is the best personal breathalyzer for most people.


$130 ( R1617,20 ) on Amazon

How and when to use a breathalyzer

Our original position, which we stand by, is that you shouldn’t use a personal breathalyzer to determine whether it’s safe for you to get behind the wheel of a vehicle. Don’t drive after drinking, period—doing so is dangerous and irresponsible. And don’t assume a breathalyzer’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) measurement tells the most accurate story of your intoxication. These devices estimate the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream based on the amount of ethanol detected in the air you exhale1. But every person, depending on age, sex, weight, alcohol tolerance, and a number of other medical fctors, is affected by alcohol differently. The same BAC number, from one person to another, can show a very different level of impairment.

Plus, BAC can fluctuate unpredictably. As Dr. Bhushan Kapur, a scientist and toxicology consultant, explained2 the highest level of BAC occurs 30 to 90 minutes after an individual has stopped drinking, after the alcoholic drink has had time to be fully absorbed into the bloodstream. Soon after you finish drinking—the point at which many people might use a personal breathalyzer to test their BAC before getting behind the wheel—the breathalyzer’s reading could be considerably lower than it would be after you’re on the road. And if you do get pulled over on your way home, keep this in mind: The results from your personal breathalyzer test can almost never be used in a court of law.

The best advice on this topic came from one of our law enforcement partners: If you’ve been drinking enough to think about using a breathalyzer to see if it’s safe for you to drive, than you’re drunk enough that you should call a cab.

Now, on to some instances when a breathalyzer could be a great item to have on hand. In the first version of this guide, our thinking was limited to the idea of using a breathalyzer to test yourself. After we published it, our readers helped us out by presenting some scenarios we hadn't considered—they argued that the tool could be a convincing deterrent to help you protect someone you know has had too much to drink.

Have you ever tried to tell your wayward buddies, co-workers, or family members that they’re in no shape to drive? Arguing this point with a drunk person can be useless. But when you back up those concerns with the BAC data that a portable breathalyzer can provide, the facts of the situation might be a little more difficult to ignore. If you’re a bartender who cares about the welfare of your customers, have them blow into a device to show them why you want to call a cab. Throwing a house party? It could prove a lot easier to persuade someone to crash on your couch or ride home with a designated driver if you can just point to the data on a BAC testing device. It’s certainly more gracious and less confrontational than offering up your own subjective judgement.

In these situations where everyone is having a few drinks together, the benefit is clear. It gets a little fuzzier when mistrust comes into play—say, parents checking their teenage kids, spouses trying to spot secret drinking, employers testing employees. Whether that kind of use makes sense comes down to the relationship you have with each other. In short, keeping a breathalyzer on hand is a great way to exercise care for the important people in your life and and to be socially responsible on the whole.

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The Wire Cutter | Lifestyle
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