Don't blow it by relying on personal breathalysers

CHOICE tests show lower-cost models unreliable.

CHOICE tests on a range of nine lower-cost breathalysers priced up to $200 have found many of the devices gave readings that indicated a person was legal to drive when they were in fact over the limit.

The trial of nine disposable and electronic models found seven of them sometimes read below the legal limit of 0.05 for blood alcohol content (BAC) despite test subjects being over the limit, according to the results measured by the evidential police breathalyser.

The controlled test involved six men and four women, who each consumed between one and three standard drinks an hour for two hours and then blew into each of the personal breathalysing devices.

Two of the devices were disposable and offer readings that tell only if you are over or under 0.05. The tests found these devices tended to err on the side of caution.

But of the seven electronic devices tested, four recorded underestimates in about 5-10% of tests. The three others, including the top priced machine at $199, indicated it was legal to drive when subjects were over 0.05 in 25-75% of tests.

“While four of the devices claim to be certified to the voluntary Australian Standard our trial suggests that any certification does not reflect their performances in the real world,” said CHOICE spokesman Christopher Zinn.

“We do not believe any of the personal breathalysers we trialled are accurate enough to be recommended. In fact several of the manufacturers and importers we contacted said the devices could only be used as guides.”

Electronic models require regular recalibration generally every six months, which can usually be done by sending it to the distributor or manufacturer at a cost of around $50.

The results are worse than CHOICE’s last such trial in 2005 when only one device out of six measured under 0.05 when the BAC was in fact over.

Drink driving is a significant factor in the road toll. In Victoria last year 28% of all drivers and motorcyclists killed on the road had a BAC of 0.05 or more.

“Given the personal breathalysers only provide estimates and can be quite wide of the mark you’d have to ask ‘Why take the risk of drinking if you plan to drive,’” said Zinn.

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