Do At-Home Sobriety Tests Actually Work Like They Should?

Do At-Home Sobriety Tests Actually Work Like They Should?

Most people don’t want to drive drunk, but it’s not always easy to guess if you’re sober enough to drive legally and safely. For some people, the answer may be purchasing their own breath tests equipment to do at-home, instant sobriety tests. But do these devices actually work?

How do at-home sobriety tests work?

It’s a staple of cop shows — an officer pulls over an erratic driver, has them walk in a straight line and then asks the driver to blow into a device that will measure the level of alcohol in their bloodstream.

The at-home versions work the same way. Basically, breath tests (AKA breathalyzers) analyze how much alcohol is present in someone’s breath when they exhale. The device then converts that reading into a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) number. In North Carolina, it’s illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.08% or higher.

Each Device Manufacturer Must Verify That Their Product Actually Works

In the U.S., the FDA is responsible for making sure any medical devices on the market are safe and effective. However, the amount of scrutiny they give to different products depends on the product classification.

Breath-alcohol tests are Class 1 medical devices, meaning if something goes wrong with them, they are unlikely to harm anyone. (A pacemaker, by contrast, is a Class 3 device, since a malfunction with a pacemaker is very, very dangerous.) Sobriety tests are also based on existing tried-and-true technological methods. As such, the FDA has basically fast-tracked the process for companies to make and sell new kinds of breathalyzers. They only need to prove that their device works in pretty much the same way as another previously-approved breathalyzer.

This fast-track makes sense for efficiency: there’s no sense making companies pay millions of dollars to test a product that works in just the same way as other breathalyzers. However, it does mean that it’s up to each individual manufacturer to make sure their tests are accurate and easy to use. Government inspectors may not look as closely.

at-home sobriety tests image
Image courtesy of piotrpiotrwojcicki from Pixabay.

Even Professional-Quality Sobriety Tests Are Worthless If Used Incorrectly

That brings us to another point — even the best-quality products won’t return an accurate BAC reading if you don’t follow the instructions exactly. Unfortunately, many breathalyzers have rather finicky instructions. For example, you’re supposed to wait 20 minutes after eating, drinking or smoking to take a reading. The reading can also be wrong if you accidentally spit in the device, if you don’t exhale long enough or if you have recently used alcohol-based mouthwash.

Plus, breathalyzers require careful calibration. Many machines are only accurate for a certain number of readings. After that, they need to be professionally recalibrated. You could easily forget this step and not realize that your BAC readings are no longer correct.

Image courtesy of  Lasse from Pexels.

In short, home sobriety tests can be a useful tool, but don’t expect them to be perfect. If in doubt about either your device or sobriety, have someone else drive you home just to be safe.

Don’t forget to catch our other personal health tips!