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DailyTech chats with an industry leader in personal breathalyzers

Tonight is New Year's Eve, which means many of us will head out on the open road.  Police forces across the country will set up DUI checkpoints in cities and rural towns, hoping to stop drunk drivers.  

Irresponsibility and doubt often lead to people too drunk to drive behind the wheel, as they put lives in danger.  To help counter this, companies have created personal breathalyzers that give drivers no doubt about blood alcohol content.

Today, DailyTech chatted with Keith Nothacker, founder of Bactrack, a well-respected breathalyzer maker.

Some readers may have your ethical standards confused, and might be under the assumption your company condones drinking and driving.  What is your response to this statement?

We absolutely do not condone drinking and driving.  There are numerous statements on our packaging and in our instruction manuals that clearly state that intoxication begins with your first alcoholic drink, and it is a risk to drive with any alcohol in your system.  All of our products are FDA 510(k) cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and we are very careful not to encourage drinking and driving.

In fact, we know from experience that just the opposite happens when consumers are empowered with a personal breathalyzer.  Instead of wondering how much each drink affects one’s BAC, now people can actually test themselves.  Without a personal breathalyzer, someone might leave a party and say, “I’m fine – I can drive.”  Now, with the availability of breathalyzers, it is quick and easy to test someone and clearly show that they are not OK to drive.  It’s very hard to argue with a big LCD display that says “0.08 %BAC”.  A breathalyzer helps quantify safe, responsible drinking.

The positive customer feedback we’ve received in this area has been amazing.  People are writing to us saying they tested a spouse or a friend and convinced them not to drive after testing with a personal breathalyzer.

How do you confirm the accuracy of your products?

All products are calibrated using DOT-approved alcohol simulation equipment.  Using premixed and certified concentrations of alcohol solution, we can calibrate and test any BACtrack® product at any BAC point.

Why do products have to be re-calibrated once per year?

Every breathalyzer, from $2,000 police systems with printers to $49 consumer models, require some type of standard maintenance to ensure long-term, reliable results.  It is a function of the type of sensor used.  And with the launch of new fuel-cell based breathalyzers like the BACtrack S75 Pro and BACtrack S80 Pro, accuracy can be maintained for much longer periods of time, often well past a year.
I guess it’s all relative.  I’ve been through 3 BlackBerrys in 2009 alone, so checking the calibration of a breathalyzer once a year sounds easy.

Out of all the companies currently selling portable breathalyzers, why should consumers choose Bactrack?

When you look at the history of our company and the BACtrack brand, we have always been pushing to get the best technologies in the hands of consumers.  We were the first company to ever receive FDA clearance to sell a breathalyzer for consumer use.  Our products have appeared on MythBusters, CSI Miami, and on the Dr. Phil Show just last week.  We have launched two new fuel-cell based breathalyzers in the last 11 months.  If a consumer wants a cutting-edge, top of the line product, a BACtrack® Breathalyzer is definitely the way to go.

Who purchases your products?

This is the most common question we get from people.  The answer is everyone.  On the same day that we sold a breathalyzer to the Howard Stern Show, we also sold one to a church running a homeless shelter.  That shows the wide range of people using the product - whether curious about alcohol levels or using them for serious testing purposes.  Often when parents call to order, they say they’re buying one to test their child, but they say they also want to test themselves periodically.  We have two products currently available in OfficeMax stores – the BACtrack B70 and the BACtrack Select S30.  There is huge demand from small business owners who might need to test their pizza delivery driver, their construction crew, or even their own bartender staff at a bar.  I think everyone either consumes alcohol or knows someone who does, so a breathalyzer has universal appeal.

Anything else you'd like to say?

By the way, we’ve had current NBA, NFL, and NHL players all purchase breathalyzers from us.  If you know your mugshot is going on The Smoking Gun the first time you get a DUI, it’s a no-brainer to have a breathalyzer and know 100% you have no alcohol in your system every time you drive.

Out of curiosity, will you be at CES in 2010?

We will be at CES:  Booth is South 4 35438.  Please stop by for demonstrations and new product launches!

Comments     Threshold

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By AssBall on 12/31/2009 4:02:16 PM , Rating: 5
Can they make an idiot-alizer to keep those people off the roads too? It would sure reduce traffic.

RE: Progress
By 800guy on 12/31/2009 5:56:35 PM , Rating: 1
My guess is that in your case it's a mirror. lol

RE: Progress
By RivuxGamma on 12/31/2009 7:08:51 PM , Rating: 2
I'd imagine that they could, but it's hard to make something cheap and reliable that detects ovaries.

RE: Progress
By Jeffk464 on 1/1/2010 12:30:58 AM , Rating: 5
Why reinvent the wheel, my twig n berries can already detect ovaries.

RE: Progress
By chagrinnin on 1/2/2010 10:31:26 AM , Rating: 3
Jeff's mom : "Now Jeff,..we've talked about this,...just because it's warm and your "twig" fits inside of it doesn't mean it has ovaries. Remember our cat, Fellix? It took weeks for your berries to heal. And granpa nappin' on the couch? He's been sleeping with his dentures in ever since." :P

By jimhsu on 1/3/2010 6:23:47 PM , Rating: 2
Regarding precision and accuracy, my professor made an interesting comment in instrumental analysis class. The "best" breathalyzer for enforcement purposes is NOT necessarily the most accurate. Rather, for most enforcement purposes, the reading is deliberately shifted to the left (so for example a reading of 0.085% may actually show as 0.078%.)

To consider why, imagine that you have a 0.079% BAC (legal) actual and have a breathalyzer with perfect accuracy but imperfect precision. A possible series of measurements might be 0.078, 0.08, and 0.079 = that establishes you as legal. Another series of measurements that is less likely, but also possible, is 0.079, 0.081, and 0.081 - averaging gives you > 0.08, and bam you're illegal even though technically you're legal (i.e. falsely convicted).

Breathalyzers for enforcement use typically are calibrated to something like 95% confidence (that is basically given a 0.08 BAC (legal), you will be convicted only 5% of the time - whereas with a perfectly accurate meter and assuming a normal distribution, the conviction rate is 50%).

Anyways, thought that might be interesting. I can explain more if needed.

RE: Accuracy
By mindless1 on 1/6/2010 7:56:19 AM , Rating: 2
Except, if by the time the test is administered it averages 0.81%, you were certainly illegally intoxicated when pulled over if 0.08% was the limit.

That doesn't even begin to take into account that they aren't accurate at all except against the strict test conditions (not varying human subjects, time periods and conditions).

I would agree though that err on the conservative side, whether it be 5% or some other factor is a good idea, though a blood test should always follow and the breathalyzer test thrown out if it would go to court.

By chagrinnin on 1/1/2010 8:40:53 AM , Rating: 3
...when the interview was done,...who scored higher? :P

breathalyzer accuracy
By DUI Officer on 12/31/09, Rating: 0
RE: breathalyzer accuracy
By BobT on 1/5/2010 6:02:52 PM , Rating: 2
Poor little DUI Officer, has been brainwashed. Breathalyzer and Accuracy are oxymorons. Doesn't make any difference if it is one of these cheap consumer ones or the taxpayer rip offs that the police use.

All breathalyzers are based on a non scientific method of this dream concept of the "Average Person" which anyone with any sense knows does not exist. Actual accuracy of breathalyzers when compared to blood testing was found to be in some cases as much as 75% off in accuracy. These errors could be either way, person could have 0.08% reading and only be 0.02 or it could be the other way around.

The next time your department is in the market for a breathalyzer, ask for a full study results of the breathalyzer vs. blood testing. Bet you won't get one because they don't want people to know how poor their real accuracy is.

Best rule for anyone is to refuse breathalyzer and insist on blood test.

Horrible Accuracy
By DoeBoy on 1/1/2010 1:39:24 PM , Rating: 2
I had one of these analyzers drop 4 points between blows. Thats horrible accuracy when all it takes is a .09 they give a good idea as to why it works so badly for analysis I think we would be better off coming out with synthetic alcohol quicker and an antidote so that people about to get on the road can just take an antidote and be on their way.

Did you get permission...?
By ricleo2 on 1/3/2010 1:54:08 PM , Rating: 2
I'm surprised Mr. Shimpi let you use his picture.

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