Can you trust personal breathalysers?

CHOICE trialled electronic and disposable breathalysers and the results were disturbing.
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02.Our findings

Crucially, many of the devices on trial underestimate blood alcohol concentration blood alcohol concentration (BAC) readings, falsely indicating the user is under the 0.05 limit. In gauging the results, CHOICE looked at how far each device deviated from the evidential machine’s readings (see our testing method).

The disposables are only designed to tell you if you’re under or over 0.05 and both tended to err on the side of caution. Redline recorded no underestimates but overestimated breath readings twice. Of the seven electronic devices, Alcohawk and SoberMate delivered readings closest to the readings registered by the evidential machine, scoring above-average accuracy levels. Both also provided the least number of underestimates.

Overall, the worst performers were the FiT, Digitech and Alcolimit. All three scored poorly for accuracy, with an unacceptable number of underestimates (see the table, below).

Results table

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Calibration required

Most of the electronic breathalysers require recalibration for accuracy at least every six months and usually this can be usually done by taking the device to the distributor or manufacturer. Typically, this costs $50 plus postage.

Even though FiT’s user manual says the device should be recalibrated every six months, we couldn’t find information on how to do this or who to contact. In fact, we only managed to contact its manufacturer, A&A Product, through one of its Australian distributors.

FiT’s product manager in Hong Kong told CHOICE the device should have been calibrated in Australia before being sold to consumers. However, when we checked with the online retailer, they were unaware it needed to be calibrated before sale. He added that importers are responsible for calibrating the breathalysers, and if they do not provide the service, users could send it to A&A Product, in Hong Kong, for this to be done.