About a month ago, I did something pretty dumb. I had too much to drink at a neighbors house and on the way (WALKING) home at 2am, I tripped and fell in my driveway, landing on my forehead, which resulted in 18 stitches and a wonderful scar that I will use to for “crazy drinking” stories and kid lectures for the rest of my life. I have endured many jokes (many of them self-instigated) at home and at work. So I was thinking about ways to leverage my story to make it more of a life lesson. We now have, for example, an official rule that if you are drinking at a neighbor’s house past 1am, you have to spend the night there, even it if it a block or two away. I later found out that other dads in our school area had had similar experiences coming home from local poker parties, but on bikes instead of walking. One injury was a broken collar bone. The point here being that I live in a crazy neighborhood you don’t have to be driving drunk to be dangerous to yourself. In fact, you are probably more dangerous to OTHERS when you drive than you are if you are walking, biking, skateboarding, roller-blading, etc. Either way, you should know what your limits are.
The entire situation got me thinking about drinking and driving and figuring out when you have had too much to drink to a point where your judgment is impaired. Many people may have an idea as to what their limits are, but the more that you drink the higher that perceived range goes, to the point that when you are clearly inebriated, you judgment and logic are at a questionable level, frequently making you think and BELIEVE you are more sober than you actually are. And I, personally, had no clue how many drinks I could really have before I was at or over the legal limit. I thought that I knew but had nothing to back it up.
So this is where I decided to see if I could do a review a pocket breathalyzer. A few years ago, the only people that had these were those “protecting and serving” your community. Now, with the advances in technology, you can own one yourself! The one that I received was by a company called BACtrack and the model was the S75 Pro, their top of the line consumer model. BACtrack, a company based in San Francisco, does have many other models available, ranging from single-use to the S80 Pro (which is used primarily by Law Enforcement, Corrections Facilities, Military and Hospitals, for example). The key premise behind the breathalyzers produced by BACtrack is that they are “sleek, simple and accurate”, all at an affordable price. And I have to admit, if their top of the line consumer breathalyzer is only $150 currently on Amazon, it is well worth the money!
My (FUN) Testing of the BACtrack S75
Before I dive into the technical details of the S75, I thought that I would talk about the real-world testing that I did with my neighbors at a dinner party. The tests were definitely NOT scientific in ANY WAY whatsoever. I had received the BACtrack S75 the same day, and hadn’t had time to really think about a way to test within a controlled environment. Perhaps I will think of a way to do it in the future (a la MythBusters), but for now, it was simply a usability and fun-ness test.
I started my testing at home, as a “control”. This was prior to drinking any alcohol whatsoever. Once I had installed the supplied batteries and attached one (of six) plastic mouth pieces, I blew into the S75 for about 5 seconds. The process is actually quite easy. You press the “Start” button. The S75 displays the number of times it has been used and then does a countdown (on the LCD screen) of about 10 seconds. It then beeps, signifying that you need to start breathing in the mouthpiece and will continue to make a tone during the time you are supposed to be blowing. After a few seconds, you then hear a double beep meaning that you can stop blowing. It typically takes a few seconds for the S75 to analyze the blood alcohol level or Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) in your breath, and then the results are displayed on the LCD screen. It can handle a range between 0.000 and 0.400. My control test (obviously) showed a reading of 0.000. The reason for the longer breathing time of about 5 seconds is fairly common to breathalyzers as you need to draw air from deep within your lungs to gain more accuracy.
So armed with the S75 and 6 mouth pieces, I headed off to a neighbor’s house for a wine tasting dinner party. There were 5 couples and we were going to do a series of blind taste tests of the wines, trying to match them with descriptions. (I won with a perfect score, by the way.) It was an ideal environment to also test out the breathalyzer. So, throughout the night, we would stop between glasses and informally try to take readings of our BAC (Blood Alcohol Content). It was interesting to see how the BAC would change over time, based on how much you had eaten, how long between drinks and how time affected your reading on the S75.
The manual for the S75 says that you should wait 20 minutes before taking a reading after having a drink, eating food or having a cigarette. This was because it was highly likely that you would have a false reading registered. To test this, we decided to see how high of a reading we could get (not by drinking a lot but by drinking right before doing a reading). By drinking and swishing the wine around in our mouths, we were able to get it to register 0.5.000 (despite the range being to 0.4000). Obviously, if this were done with a proper reading, the person would be in an alcohol coma or very dead.
Here is a chart that appears in the S75 manual:
- 0.02-0.03% – Slight euphoria. Loss of shyness. Depressant effects are not apparent. Impairment possible in some individuals.
- 0.04-0.06% – Feeling of well-being, relaxation, lower inhibitions and sensation of warmth. Euphoria. Some minor impairment of reasoning and memory.Lowering of caution. Driving skills may be impaired at this level of intoxication.
- 0.07-0.09% – Slight impairment of balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing. Euphoria. Judgment and self-control are reduced. Caution, reason and memory are impaired. Driving skills are always impaired at this level of intoxication and higher.
- 0.10-0.12% – Significant impairment of motor coordination and loss of good judgment. Speech may be slurred. Balance, vision, reaction time and hearing will be impaired. Euphoria.-Specific Effects
- 0.13-0.15% – Gross motor impairment and lack of physical control. Blurred vision and major loss of balance. Euphoria is reduced and dysphoria (anxiety, restlessness) is beginning to appear.
- 0.16-0.20% – Dysphoria predominates. Nausea may appear.
- 0.25% – Needs assistance in walking. Total mental confusion. Dysphoria with nausea and some vomiting.
- 0.30% – Loss of consciousness.
- 0.40% and up – Onset of coma. Possible death due to respiratory arrest.
All fun aside (and by the way, drinking right before blowing into the S75 is NOT the way to do it) we were able to get readings throughout the night. BAC levels varied from males and females. Some people seemed to metabolize the alcohol more quickly than others and it definitely depended on how much you had to eat. The highest reading that I got was a 0.046 which is slightly over HALF way to the legally “drunk” limit of 0.080. If you are caught driving with a 0.08 BAC or higher, you WILL get a DUI. When I saw that reading, I was thoroughly shocked. While the reading above lists that level as “some impairment” of reasoning, memory and driving skills, I felt that I would NOT have been able to drive at that point. I was honestly surprised that I would actually be legally allowed to drive.
This was the most important lesson that I learned from this entire “experiment”. Despite being under the legal limit, most people are MUCH too inebriated to drive. I know for a fact that at the level that I was at, I personally would not have gotten behind the wheel of a car. Do note, the dinner party was local, 1 block away from our house so we did not drive, only walked, as did the other neighbors.
Some Tech Info
The S75 Pro is driven by a very accurate fuel cell sensor, which means that it is more accurate than semi-conductor breathalyzers. This allows for consistency should you take the reading of the same person over a short period of time. The fuel cell sensor also allow people who are diabetic or on a low calorie diet to use the S75 since semi-conductor breathalyzers may read with a false positive. Another issue with semiconductor models is that at higher BAC levels, those devices are less accurate.
The S75 has a front facing mouth piece which means that after you are done breathing into it, the LCD screen it right in front of you, making it easy to read and use, even in an impaired state. Also, I found the audio prompts to be very helpful when doing the testing.
There is actually a miniature air pump in the S75 Pro which collects air from deep in your lungs, thus the requirement to breath for about 5 seconds into it. You can actually feel the S75 filling up with air, especially towards the end. To me, it felt like I was breathing into a tiny balloon, even though you were actually partially breathing through the device. It was actually the air pump filling up the air chamber. You could feel it click when it was full (right around 5 seconds).
The S75 Pro is quite small actually, measuring at 2.3 x 4.8 x 1.0 inches and only weighing 4.4 oz (125g). It comes with 6 mouth pieces, 2 AA batteries, a wrist strap and a handy carrying case. The S75 Pro is FDA 510(k) cleared for personal use. It is about the size of a cell phone.
The Final Swig
I’m not sure why it took me so long to get a pocket breathalyzer. It is actually quite a handy device to have. If you go to a dinner party, you can see if you should wait an hour before driving home. If you have teenagers (or kids just under or just over the drinking age), having a breathalyzer may potentially prevent them from having a few too many drinks. If you tell your children that you will be testing them when they come home from a party or something, you might prevent them from having a bit too much. No guarantees though. Having a breathalyzer is a good way to add a bit of insurance. And more importantly, DRINK RESPONSIBLY and have a designated driver!
I have no way of knowing how accurate the BACtrack S75 Pro is because I was not comparing against a certified standard, but it is supposedly certified to be accurate. Also, the meter is so sensitive that if you have a drink even a few minutes prior to running a test, it will affect the level of alcohol detected in your breath. I did another test with a neighbor later where we took a reading, did a measurement (approx 0.014), then took a drink of beer which was swished around in the mouth and then did another reading (much higher reading of 0.34 – yes, not 0.034) and then rinsed my mouth out with a couple of mouthfuls of water and then did a third reading (registering about 0.021) which shows that you definitely need to wait a while between drinking and doing the test.
I wish that there was a way on the S75 to bring up the last 5 or 10 tests. This would be helpful to see if you are getting more or less sober over time, as well as have a time and date stamp on the readings. While the size of the S75 does make it very portable, it would be great to have a bit more technology within it to record readings, allow for the programming of users, and have a way to input and calculate number of drinks per hour based on your age/weight/sex/time between drinks.
The BACtrack S75 Pro retails for about $200 but you can get it on Amazon for $150.47 currently. As I mentioned there are other models available which are slightly less expensive and may meet different needs. The S75 Pro is the top of the line consumer version, as close to what law enforcement uses, from my understanding. Regardless, it is a worthwhile investment, in my opinion. It can definitely help you, your friends, family or co-workers know “when you have had too much” in an easy to use, compact and accurate form factor.
Disclosure Text : I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.
HTD says: The BACtrack S75 Pro Breathalyzer is more than just a fun gadget to have, in my opinion, ALL people should have one for safety reasons!