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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!

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breathalyzer accuracy
By DUI Officer on 12/31/2009 9:33:37 PM , Rating: 0
The expert is evasive about the accuracy of his units. The accuracy of a breathalyzer has everything to do with the sensing technology used and not just the calibration solution. Consumer devices like BacTrac are not the same as our Law Enforcement breath alcohol testers. They use an inferior measurement technology and are mass produced to be cheap not accurate. They are toys.

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.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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