DennisBeaverJune 25, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver

Today’s story will be of special interest to anyone who drinks significantly more than the controversial “recommended” amount of heart-healthy alcohol or knows someone who does. That’s the equivalent of about two standard size “shots” per day.

For readers who fall in that category — or who entertains friends to the point of feeling no pain — then not owning a personal breathalyzer is like playing Russian roulette, with one difference. If you play Russian roulette and lose, you die. With drunk driving, there are more victims, even if no one dies.

(If you are a dyed-in-the wool, dedicated alcoholic who consciously drives drunk and does not care about anyone except yourself, curiosity might be the only reason to continue reading this story, as nothing we have to say will change your behavior. But we have a tool which could keep you sufficiently sober to drive home safely where you can then continue on your path of self-destruction.)

Last week a Central California reader phoned in tears, stating, “Dennis, I have read you for years and ignored your recommendations about buying a Breathalyzer even though I woke up every morning feeling hung over. But last week it was different.

“Driving to work at 6 a.m. I was pulled over, blew a .09, got arrested and now I will probably lose my job as a school bus driver! I realize now that I wasn’t just hung over all these years, I was still drunk! If I had owned a breathalyzer, I would have known my blood alcohol level. I would have gotten therapy. The kids would not have been at risk.”

The cost of a first “typical” DUI — no auto accident, no one hurt — when looked at over the years, is staggering, and now, about to become law in California, the required installation of an ignition interlock device on all cars driven.

These devices are a breathalyzer connected to the car’s ignition system which will not allow the vehicle to be started if the driver blows over a certain limit, very low, limit. If the law is signed by California’s governor, then all DUI convictions or guilty pleas – including the first one — will require this interlock device, and it could add well over $1,000 to the cost of the DUI, along with a dose of shame.

“I and all of my colleagues on the Bench can just picture the embarrassment of having to blow into what is obviously a breathalyzer, so your friends, colleagues and family members all know that you got a DUI. Shame can influence behavior, and we need a larger dose of it in our courts,” a Central California Superior Court judge told us.

But all of this is completely avoidable if you buy the right type of breathalyzer. Over the past several weeks, we tested several, and here are our findings and recommendation.

There are two different technologies used in measuring blood alcohol: Semiconductor and fuel cell.

“It is important for consumers to understand the differences,” Wayne Wilkomm, President and CEO of Denver-based Lifeloc Technologies tells You and the Law. His company manufactures breathalyzers used by police in over 35 countries, as well as a consumer unit called the LifeGuard using professional, fuel cell technology.

“If all you are concerned about is screening for the presence of alcohol–if this person has been drinking–then a semiconductor breathalyzer is ok. So, having high school students blow into one would be an appropriate use. But you cannot rely on the numbers given to accurately show a blood alcohol level,” he points out.

“For the highest level of accuracy, then look for the words Fuel Cell on the package,” Keith Nothacker, Founder and CEO of San-Francisco-based BACtrack, observes. His company has a 70 percent market share in the North American personal breathalyzer market, with a wide variety of Fuel Cell devices.

Our Test Results and Recommendations

This column has revisited personal breathalyzers over the past several years, testing consumer devices as the technology and prices improved. In our opinion, buying anything other than a fuel cell is false economy.

For this article, under proper test conditions, we compared Lifeloc’s consumer unit, the LifeGuard and BACTrack’s fuel cell devices against a law enforcement breathalyzer costing several times as much. The results were astonishing.

Using a mix of devices, some new and others having been used in a college frat house for months, every consumer unit displayed blood alcohol levels which were so close to the law enforcement unit as to be inconsequential. In a word, they were accurate.

Finally, below .08 an arrested for DUI is still possible. These devices provide vital information helping to safely stay way below that number.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.