Print 12 comment(s) - last by mindless1.. on Jan 6 at 7:56 AM

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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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.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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