JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Personal breathalyzers are becoming more common in bars across America. According to Wintergreen Research, the market for portable breath testers has grown by $175-million since 2005. According to Jonesboro Police, novelty breathalyzers could cause harm to people with little knowledge about the devices.
"We're concerned about the accuracy of a portable breath testing device, especially if it's one of the cheaper models," said Sgt. Steve McDaniel with Jonesboro Police.
Portable breath tests can be purchased from a number of web-sites. They cost anywhere from $15 to $1,800. Most of the cheaper models are purchased by young adults, according to police.
"I would say that they're an option that someone could use. I would use extreme caution when using them. There are several factors that go into consideration when you're trying to test your breath for the presence of alcohol," said Wes Baxter, partner of Arkansas Police Supply.
Baxter said his store has not sold any personal breathalyzers, but a multitude of devices can be found online.
"I was surprised when I researched them online that are several different companies that are marketing them online," said Baxter.
According to police, results from personal breathalyzers are not recognized in the court system. The legal driving limit in Arkansas is .08 BAC.
"Some of them are very cheap, even novelty type devices, that are not accurate and it may cause someone to think they're not intoxicated when truly they are intoxicated," said McDaniel.
McDaniel said there are a number of variables involved when gauging a person's BAC.
"They do make some pretty accurate portable breath testers, but if the procedure is not right, if they're not using a waiting period or they have alcohol in their mouth or something like that, then we see a lot of room for inaccurate readings," said McDaniel.
According to McDaniel, police must follow guidelines when issuing tests for alcohol during traffic stops. In some instances, officers must observe a suspected drunk driver for 15 minutes before giving the person a breath test.
"We're concerned about the calibration of it and we're also concerned that if you think you have to take a portable breathalyzer test to determine whether or not you're intoxicated, you probably need a sober driver anyway," said McDaniel.
Body weight, body fat percentage and the type of alcoholic beverage consumed are all factors that impact blood alcohol content.
"These portable breath testing devices, they're used, if someone is relying on those to determine if they're intoxicated, it may be dangerous for them to do that because they may get an inaccurate reading. It may cause them to think they're okay to drive, which usually when someone is impaired. Their judgment is impaired and so it's not really the right time to be making those decisions," said McDaniel.
Baxter said some people may breathe into the device after a drink, but the alcohol won't register until it has been absorbed by the body.
"You're going to get a breath reading because you had just taken the initial shot of alcohol, so a lot of that reading is going to come from the presence of that alcohol still being in your mouth," said Baxter. "It is going to take some time for that alcohol to get into your system. The best recommendation I would give is that if you think you've had too much to drink to be driving is to call someone."
"Use the common sense approach. If you think you've had too much to drink, call someone to come pick you up. If you must rely on these portable breath testers, I would follow the instructions and the manufacturer guidelines on them," said Baxter.