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New technology for measuring BAC levels

From Texas to Maine, the average consumer can now purchase handheld breath-testing devices so they can measure their own blood-alcohol content. Portable devices can even fit on a key ring, and prices start at only $30 compared to $10,000 for their larger cousins used by law enforcement. At least two manufacturers have created a breathalyzer available as a smartphone accessory with an app in order to reduce the chances of an arrest for driving while intoxicated.

A reading in the safe range, or less than .08 percent, doesn't necessarily mean that the person should be on the road since actual level of intoxication can vary depending on the individual. However, the devices are useful because they serve as a guide to check BAC levels, and parents can also use them to check their children's BAC levels.

The BACtrack breathalyzer costs $150 and uses a graph on a smartphone that predicts future BAC levels until they drop to zero. The fuel cell unit converts alcohol to acid and water, which transmits an electrical current. The current registers the BAC level. Another device, the Alcohoot, will be available for $75 in Sept. 2013 and also works with smartphones using similar technology. The Alcohoot offers nearby restaurant choices where people can sober up if they need to, along with the numbers of taxis to call for a ride. Another type of breathalyzer uses a different measurement apparatus and costs from $30 to $70. However, the sensors in the less-expensive devices are not as reliable and can sometimes incorrectly register other substances as alcohol.

An arrest and conviction for drinking and driving is usually based on the measuring of a person's blood-alcohol content. A criminal defense attorney might be able to question the accuracy of the results of the tests, which could mean a dismissal of the case or diminished charges for the defendant.

Source: New York Times, "Blood Alcohol Testers for Those Without Badges", Matthew Wald, July 03, 2013

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