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Should I buy a portable breathalyzer to avoid DWI?

Posted by Brian Tillman on 24 June 2010

I was scrolling through Craigslist Austin this morning and came across an ad for $20 portable breathalyzers.  The ad stated “”Get yours and avoid a DUI.”  Is this the magic bullet that will finally allow you to party within the legal limits and drive safely home without getting arrested?The short answer is NO, and so is the long answer.  Let’s take a closer look.

Portable breathalyzers are small handheld electronic devices that allow an individual to blow their breath into the device, and then it will register a result that is supposed to show the person’s blood alcohol content.  In Texas, the legal limit for blood alcohol is .08.  So, in theory, if you blow and it shows .08 or over, you don’t drive and don’t risk getting a DWI.  There are many companies manufacturing these devices across the country, each with its own claims of reliability and promises of safety.

To begin with, it should be made clear that these devices are for screening, and not for conclusively accurate results.  That means that they are useful for determining the presence of alcohol, but not necessarily the amount.  In fact, the results from a portable breath test (which the police DO use) are NOT admissible in a DWI trial.  That’s why the DPS has the more comprehensive Intoxylizer 5000 machines, which still have their own issues but are nonetheless more accurate than portable devices.

If it hasn’t already occurred to you, let me emphasize something: Intoxication is not necessarily a number!!  People tend to get wrapped up in the whole .08 reading as the end-all, be-all of DWI prosecution.  The law is Driving While Intoxicated, which means impairment of your normal mental or physical faculties.  .08 is merely the BAC where the law finds you intoxicated per se.  So if you blow .05 and are impaired either mentally or physically, you still lose.  Neither the officer or judge will care that your BAC is below .08 because they don’t need it, even on the Intoxylizer.

Additionally, let’s say you are about to get in the car and you blow into your device.  It reads a .07, so you decide you’re home free and hop in.  You get stopped by police and they take you to get a breath test, which comes up .10.  What just happened?  Likely, in the time since you first blew, your body has assimilated your last drink or two and your BAC actually rose in the process.  Or maybe it’s a case of their big expensive machine being more accurate than your little pocket one.  Either way, you lose.

The simple answer is this- save your money.  Don’t drive if you even think you might be impaired, but certainly don’t place your safety or your legal future in the hands of a novelty device.  Common sense is still the best preventative medicine.