What This Breathalyzer Taught Me About Drunk Driving

Does legal always mean safe?

Memorial Day is an occasion for Americans to reflect and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the Armed Forces. It's a typical time for families to gather and have barbecues, enjoying the company of one another in the sunshine. 

Unfortunately, this celebratory weekend also means a spike in the number of people who drive under the influence, making it the second most dangerous day to drive. This is likely because people tend to underestimate how alcohol truly affects them. Using a breathalyzer might help solve that problem — but it's important to use a reliable instrument.

In order to help people make better choices this holiday weekend, I was given the opportunity to review the Revo breathalyzer, which is in AlcoMate's professional line. According to the manufacturers, the unit is made for law enforcement, military, medical, and corporate users. 

The hot new thing may be breathalyzers meant for smartphones, but those are notoriously unreliable. In comparison, the accuracy of AlcoMate units has been certified by DOT (Department of Transportation), NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), and the US Coast Guard.

He wasn't slurring words or stumbling. In all actuality, he seemed completely fine.

Setting it up is as easy as putting in the two included AAA batteries and turning the unit on. Once the digital readout says "blow," a disposable mouthpiece can be inserted and it's ready for use. Simply blow a sharp, steady stream of air into the unit until there is an audible click within the unit. Seconds later, a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) ranging from 0.000-0.400 is displayed on the screen. 

One of the biggest advantages to the Revo is sending in the unit to be recalibrated is a thing of the past. Replacement sensors are available for purchase and it is recommended to replace it every 12 months or 1000 tests, whichever comes first. Even with recalibration, a sensor will likely fail over time. By simply replacing Revo's longer-lasting sensor, it's more reliable and more convenient.

While I was certainly willing to indulge in my favorite beer to see how it worked, I needed to recruit a few others to get a better idea of how alcohol affected other people, including their decision to drive.

Lisa Winter / A Plus
Lisa Winter / A Plus

After a fun night out with dinner and drinks, nobody felt too bad. Still, we caught a cab and headed back. This gave us time for the 20-minute buffer between our last drinks and taking the test, as is recommended to keep the sensor working properly. 

Ultimately, it was pretty interesting to compare the number and types of drinks to body type and what was chosen for dinner, with more experiments planned in the future. 

One of my testers blew 0.101, well over the legal limit of 0.080. He wasn't slurring words or stumbling. In all actuality, he seemed completely fine. When asked if he would feel comfortable driving with as much as he had to drink, he responded: "Sadly, yes. Although now that I know how high my BAC really is, I wouldn't." To make matters worse, before his test I would have felt completely comfortable getting in a car with him behind the wheel.

In comparison, I blew 0.070. Sure, I was legal to drive, but I was definitely impaired and would have chosen not to drive. 

Of course, you should absolutely not use a breathalyzer as a determining factor for whether or not you should get behind the wheel. Alcohol affects people differently, and just because it may be legal for you to drive doesn't necessarily mean that it's safe. 

Getting a breathalyzer can help you understand how alcohol affects you, whether you only imbibe once in a while or if you're prone to days like this: 

While simply having a designated driver is the best choice, there are other options to avoid driving drunk.

Of course, calling a cab is always an option. Around holiday weekends, some taxi companies provide their services for free (until the fare reaches a certain limit); or the cost of the fare may be sponsored by a local anti-drunk driving group. 

Sure, I was legal to drive, but I was definitely impaired.

Don't want to leave your car at the bar? In certain areas, AAA will tow your car home for free as part of their Holiday Safe Ride program. If you don't live in one of the places covered, you can still pay out of pocket for a tow. 

If nobody in your group volunteers to be a designated driver, or the person who was supposed to stay sober drinks anyway, you can always hire someone to be the DD

Some police departments even have programs to get people home so they don't drive drunk, but not every area has these resources available. Call before you head out for the night and even if they won't transport you themselves, they may be able to help you plan the safest way to get home. Otherwise, they might safely transport you to the drunk tank, letting you sleep it off in the police station.

Can't afford these services?

The prices of these options largely depend on the company or area, but it's still a bargain compared to the cost of getting busted driving drunk or potentially hurting someone. If you can't pay for a cab ride, there's a good chance you can't afford to drive drunk either.

Be safe this Memorial Day weekend. 

Don't drink and drive.

Cover image: Shutterstock