Portable Breathalyzers: Do They Work?

By: McKenzie Martin Email
By: McKenzie Martin Email

Police say they are becoming more and more popular, portable breathalyzer devices. But do they actually work and can they save you from a DUI?

11 News tested out two types of devices. One was a disposable tester that only costs about $2 on average, but it only gives you a pass/fail reading. The other device, which can be re-used runs about $80 and will give you a blood alcohol reading, but police say neither one can be trusted.

One of our test subjects, Frank, who told us he’d had about 9 or 10 beers, blew into the re-useable device and was given a reading of a .23. A level more than two times the legal limit.

"Wow. I'm really surprised, that's amazing," he said.

20 minutes later we gave Frank another test.

"In the last 20 minutes I drank two glasses of water, no beer, no food," he said.

This time his BAC was down to a .14.

"It feels more how I feel compared to the other one, I should have been falling off this stool," Frank said.

We also had two sisters take the same test; they both had two mixed drinks in about an hour. One of them blew a .03, the other a .08.

Police say the variations our subjects experienced is exactly why they can't use portable breathalyzers to make an arrest or use them in court.

"They are not accurate, they are not reliable," said Sgt. Glenn Thomas with the Colorado Springs Police Department.

Police do use them at the end of a roadside sobriety test, but only to check for impairment.

"They are simply used to confirm that alcohol is present," Sgt. Thomas said.

The only way to determine someone's BAC accurately is with a blood test, but the portable devices are still becoming more and more popular and may be giving more and more drivers a false sense of security.

"They say they took a portable test before they left the bar and they passed it, but then they show impairment and their blood alcohol content is at a different level then what they said," Sgt. Thomas said.

And just as unreliable as the portable tests Sgt. Thomas says are these disposable ones.

"It's more or less a pass fail device that's only going to tell you if alcohol is present, it's not going to tell you an accurate level," said Sgt. Thomas.

Police say if you're wondering if you’ve had too much to drink, simply don't get behind the wheel.

Colorado Springs Police are gearing up for the busy holiday weekend. They will be cracking down once again on drunk drivers. There will be a roving DUI checkpoint near downtown Friday night.


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