You’re out with your friends on a Friday night and you’re supposed to be the designated driver. You don’t want to be a total stick in the mud, but how much is too much? This writer would encourage you to keep the drinking to a bare minimum if you’re planning on driving, but some would prefer to have an accurate reading of whether they’re safe to drive before they get on the road. AlcoMate is just one of a myriad of options online that offers a quality breathalyzer, but where do they stand up?
AlcoMate: The Device
When it comes to portable breathalyzers, they’re all basically the same. It’s a small rectangular unit with a straw coming out of the side so you can blow into the device. AlcoMate Premium is pretty much the same at first glance, but they hid a pretty nifty chunk around back.
AlcoMate invented what they call the P.R.I.S.M., which somehow stands for “Pre-Calibrated Replaceable Alcohol Sensor Module.” Basically, the entire brain of the breathalyzer is located within the PRISM, of which you get two when you buy an AlcoMate Premium unit. It ensures an accurate device that never requires calibration, helps prevent delays, and prevents buildup of residue within the main device.
According to their instructions, you only need to replace the PRISM once per year or every 200 blows, whichever comes first. For most people, that will probably be the once per year bit and according to their documentation, this restores your device to like-new, since all of the parts of the device that would wear out on a traditional breathalyzer are located in the PRISM.
After you’ve gone through two years with your AlcoMate Premium and you’ve decided that you want to keep using it, it only costs $29 to replace the PRISM on the AlcoMate Premium and you’re good to go. Replacing the PRISM is really easy, and should only take you a matter of seconds.
The AlcoMate Premium doesn’t use a rechargeable battery, however, it sort of regresses you to using AA batteries. For me this isn’t really an issue because I still have AA batteries lying around for other things I have, but for some this may seem like a minor hassle. In any case, the batteries seem to last a while and if you really want rechargeable ones, they make those too.
Use And Accuracy
Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. How does the AlcoMate Premium measure up when it comes to accuracy and ease of use? To start, it’s a very easy device to use. All you need to do is hit the power button and wait for the device to warm up, which usually takes about a minute. When it’s ready it will sound a beep, you blow, it rings until you need to stop blowing, a BAC is displayed on the screen.
Accuracy is a little bit trickier. A friend and I each tested the device on multiple occasions, starting with a baseline of blowing into the device when we knew we were sober and would/should blow 0.000. It passed that part of the test with flying colors, but after that things got a little hairy.
There are official ways of testing breathalyzers that are used by police departments to calibrate the units that they have out in the field to help officers determine whether a driver is impaired. They have a special device with cartridges that are set to be exactly a certain BAC and will imitate a breath into the breathalyzer. Based on those tests, they know how to calibrate the breathalyzer. I reached out to local police departments to see if I could use this technology to test this breathalyzer, but they politely declined. With no other options left, it was time to drink for science!
When I wasn’t sure exactly how many standard drinks were in a particular concoction I used a resource provided here, by the NIH. There are many BAC calculators online, and they all seem to use the same algorithm to come to their conclusion, but bloodalcoholcalculator.org allowed for the most precise calculations.
Nick: 197 lbs
0 drinks: Expected: 0.000, Reading: 0.000
3.1 liquor “drinks” in ~35 mins: Expected: 0.053, Reading: 0.084
3 beers in 97 mins: Expected: 0.034, Reading: 0.077
Pascal: 155 lbs
0 drinks: Expected: 0.000, Reading: 0.000
3 whiskey/soda in 80 minutes: Expected: 0.056, Reading: 0.077
3 beers in 85 minutes: Expected: 0.055, Reading: 0.090
In the end, though, you can see that the AlcoMate Premium consistently gave results higher than what was expected by my calculations. It’s important to note that breathalyzers have an expected margin of error of 10%, which is why they aren’t admissible as evidence of impaired driving in court. A police officer must get a blood sample from a suspect for him or her to be charged.
However, a quick search online will show you that Police Magazine rates the AlcoMate Revo, a slightly more expensive model from AlcoMate that also uses PRISM, as accurate enough to be used by police departments. It retails for $189 directly from AlcoMate themselves, so for many it’s more of a luxury, and I think a bit of a novelty.
In the end, it’s really hard to say whether the AlcoMate is actually wrong or if it’s just the myriad of variables involved in trying to make such a complicated calculation that is skewing the results. Ultimately, if the breathalyzer tells you that you’re more than .071, you should just assume that you’re too impaired to drive legally, and if it says anything at all you should reconsider driving at all. It won’t kill you to stay on the couch tonight.