Nine breathalysers priced from $6 to $199, trialled by CHOICE staff
Given the many perils of drink driving, personal handheld breathalysers that claim to show whether you’re over the legal drinking limit may seem appealing. But can you really rely on them?
Personal breathalysers give an indication of a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is only measured accurately in a blood test. More personal breathalysers are now available since CHOICE last trialled them in 2005; you can buy them online, at car repair workshops and even in supermarkets. But greater availability hasn’t improved their accuracy.
In this trial, the inaccuracies were disturbing: seven of the nine breathalysers underestimated blood alcohol levels. This means the readings indicated it was fine for the user to drive, when in fact they were over the legal driving limit.
We found two types of breathalysers readily available — electronic and disposable — and trialled nine models priced below $200. Our trial results are a warning that these devices can provide motorists with a false sense of security.
Please note: this information was current as of September 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
Video: Personal Breathalysers
How much faith should you place in a personal breathalyser unit?
Based on our results, CHOICE does not believe any of the personal breathalysers we trialled are sufficiently accurate to be recommended for use. Indeed, several of the manufacturers or distributors we contacted said the readings from the devices are to be used only as guides, not as a conclusive measure.
Drink driving is a significant factor in the road toll across most states. According to the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority’s 2007 crash data, 1947 accidents were alcohol-related. Every year about 18% of people killed on NSW roads had consumed alcohol, while alcohol is also implicated in about one-third of the annual fatalities of people aged between 17 and 24. In Victoria last year, 28% of all drivers and motorcyclists killed on the roads had a blood alcohol reading of 0.05 or more.
Given a personal breathalyser provides only estimates — and they can be quite off the mark – why take the risk? If you’re in any doubt at all, just don’t drive when you’ve been drinking.
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