Personal Breathalyzers gaining popularity, but do they work?

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Thursday is New Year's Eve, and a lot of people will be out celebrating. Law enforcement agencies will be out too, watching for drunk drivers.

Officers carry high-tech Breathalyzer devices, which can give a roadside reading of a driver's blood-alcohol level. The devices that officers use cost hundreds of dollars each, but consumers have discovered an exploding market: personal Breathalyzers.

Market for personal breathalyzers, at $27.9 million in 2005, is currently valued at $215.2 million and is anticipated to reach $341.7 million by 2011. -WinterGreen Research, Inc.

Makers of the personalized Breathalyzers claim that if you're out for the evening and concerned you might be impaired, you can exhale into one of the devices and get a quick reading.

They're sold at supermarkets and pharmacies; dozens of them are on various internet sites -- some sold for as cheap as $3. But do they work?

"They're certainly not as sophisticated as Breathalyzers that police officers have; and if you're self-administering a test when you've had something to drink, you may not give a correct or proper breath measure," says Rolayne Fairclough, spokeswoman for AAA of Utah.

KSL's Keith McCord demonstrates how the personal Breathalyzer is used
KSL's Keith McCord demonstrates how the personal Breathalyzer is used

AAA also discourages the use of personal Breathalyzers because they generally don't have calibration option, which can affect accuracy; and the types that have crystals that change colors have limited shelf lives, also distorting the readings.

Even though the inexpensive personal Breathalyzers aren't as accurate as the professional models that law enforcement officers use, they still can provide some useful information.

"If a parent wants to use a Breathalyzer to make sure their teenagers are not drinking, they certainly would be a good option for parents to have," Fairclough says.

Sales of personal Breathalyzers have spiked in recent years. It's a $215 million-a-year business right now, according to surveys. That's a 10-fold increase since 2005.

If there's alcohol in your system, the inexpensive Breathalyzer will detect it. But law enforcement agencies say since alcohol affects different people in different ways, it's best to adhere to this basic rule that officers have preached for years: If you drink, don't drive.

Again this year, AAA will be offering its "Tipsy Tow" program. Between 6 p.m. New Year's Eve and 6 a.m. New Years Day, they'll pick you up and tow your car for free within a 5 mile radius. All it takes is a call to 1-800-AAA-HELP.


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