Personal breathalyzers not an alternative for drinking responsibly

Drinking responsibly has already been translated into the technological world with smartphone apps such as R-U-Buzzed? and ALCulator to track alcohol consumption. Now, proponents of personal breathalyzer tests are pushing for another way to monitor drinking.

A recent article from The Atlantic reported that many people don’t actually own a breathalyzer test. However, founder of personal-breathalyzer company BACtrack Keith Nothacker believes its benefits include helping to end the drinking and driving problem and being able to personally measure one’s own blood alcohol content. These tests are conveniently sized to fit in one’s pocket and are available in over 15,000 stores, as mentioned in the article.

Yet, while being able to test one’s own BAC is beneficial for any drinking event, especially if it prevents a possible accident with a drunk driver, personal
breathalyzers shouldn’t replace the responsibility of knowing how much alcohol is in a drink and having a designated driver or taxi ready.  

In the article, Nothacker compares getting arrested for something people can’t measure to “not having a speedometer in your car and then getting arrested for speeding.” Though personal breathalyzers can give people that added security, it is still important to know off-hand what one alcoholic drink actually constitutes, especially when having multiple drinks.

For example, knowing one drink is the same as 12 fluid ounces of beer, five fluid ounces of wine and a one and a half fluid ounce shot of hard liquor can help people effectively count their drinks.

Still, there are no exceptions for driving after drinking, and using a personal breathalyzer test to give the green light should only be necessary on occasions when someone drinks very little.

For example, indicates that a person’s BAC of .016, far less than the legal limit of .08, metabolizes within one hour. However, even knowing this standard may only be helpful to someone who has only had one drink when factors such as body size can affect people’s BAC differently. 

This is especially true for college students, as the risk of being in an accident at any level of BAC is higher for young people, according to a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol. Additionally, a Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs study reported that over 3 million students between the ages of 18 and 24 drive under the influence.

Granted, The Atlantic article noted that Brian Sturdivant, marketing vice president of personal-breathalyzer company Breathometer, assures that the tests are meant to inform one of how intoxicated he or she is and that the company never advises driving after drinking. Yet, it’s hard to see how consumers wouldn’t do so with a personal product typically used by police officers to test for impaired driving.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with having a personal breathalyzer test, and it’s never frowned upon to take consideration for one’s own safety and that of others, it shouldn’t replace being smart in potentially dangerous situations when it’s usually best to just avoid the risk entirely. 

Isabelle Cavazos is a junior majoring in English and Spanish.