Sobriety Test

Should I Buy a Portable Breath Testing Device for Personal Use

Got an email from Len, who wanted to chime in on the breathalyzer issue. - Tom.

If a person has consumed alcohol away from home, and he or she is concerned about being over the legal blood alcohol limit, a personal breath testing device (PBT) might control their decision about driving home. Such a device can help avoid an accident, injuries, a night in jail or all three of them. PBTs are used by many police departments across the country for purposes of establishing probable cause to take a driver down to the station for certified breath testing. They're also available to the general public to help keep that from happening. For a charge, some bars even have their own stationary breath testing machines for use by their customers.

You Get What You Pay For
Any person who frequently consumes alcoholic beverages and drives might want to have a portable breath testing device. PBTs are hand-held devices that a person can use to measure their blood alcohol concentration anywhere that they might be. Some models even plug into smartphones with an app that performs all of the computations. They might be told right away if it's safe to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle to drive home, or whether they should call Uber, Lyft or a taxi service. What comes to issue is the consistency and reliability of these devices. There can be a differential of plus or minus 20 percent from one blow to another from the same person, especially on the least expensive models. That's a big variable when a determination must be made as to whether a person should even be thinking about driving.

PBT Reliability Issues
There's a reason why PBT testing isn't admissible for purposes of proving guilt or innocence in a DUI trial. Their results simply aren't reliable. Some units need to be periodically returned to the manufacturer for recalibration. Others simply deteriorate over time. Even the most expensive PBTs carry a disclaimer on the back of their packaging. Others are marked as being for personal or home use only. Remember the reason for that: PBT results are generally unreliable. If you are considering a PBT see our review of this smartphone Breathalyzer. If you're going to get a PBT this is the one to buy. We have done a thorough review of it here.

Trust Your Gut
It's more likely than not that if you have any amount of an alcoholic beverage on your breath, and you're the subject of a traffic stop, you're going to end up at the police station with a blow or no blow dilemma. Your PBT results are irrelevant. The decision on whether to blow is up to you, but remember, if you refuse that breath testing, and you're found guilty of DUI, the penalties are going to be even more severe.
Contact a lawyer
It is almost always worth hiring a DUI lawyer after a DUI charge. You'll have questions, they'll advise you of your legal options, and you can decide on what direction you wish to take.

Review: The BacTrack Mobile Smartphone Breathalyzer

Hey everyone. Just wanted to check in.

Like I said before… Life moves on. These days I don’t really think about my DUI that much. Life is somewhat back to normal. I just paid my second-to-last
insurance payment with an SR-22 and… ouch… but other than that, reading the emails that you guys send me… It’s pretty much like life was before I got my DUI.

But not quite.

The DUI process is rough, much harsher than it needs to be, and just plain exhausting.

I don’t want to go through it again. Ever.

While I have certainly cut back on my drinking, I didn’t quit. It’s a personal decision, some may need to, some don’t, I believe I’m in the latter half.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t worry about it.

If I go out to get drunk, have a night out, I take a l
yft or uber, but what about when you’re out with a friend who wants to get a beer and a burger, and that beer turns into two, or three over catching up and talking about old times.

How do you know when you’re ok to drive?

I spoke earlier about owning a breathalyzer, but I’ve gotten a number of messages asking me more about the specifics, so I thought I’d get into it a little bit more.

Deciding which Breathalyzer to get

After getting a DUI the last thing I wanted to do was spend more money. But I knew that if I was going to continue drinking at all… that I needed to have more information. It’s easy to think that you’re fine after a few drinks,
but study after study shows that intoxicated people have no idea how intoxicated they are. I needed to know.

The #1 thing I was looking for in a breathalyzer was accuracy - being off by one or two points can make a big difference, I had to know precisely how drunk I was. Second, I was looking for something discreet - I didn’t want to have to carry some big bulky thing around with me.

What helped inform my decision
was this review - where many breathalyzers were compared to police equipment - the ultimate test you’ll have to face. The main takeaways were that the cheaper, oxide sensors were not worth it because the results were generally all over the map. No thanks. They recommended a BacTrack breathalyzer that was professional, accurate and straightforward.

That wasn’t the one I went for.

When discussing the other ones, they mentioned how the
BacTrack Mobile version was almost just as accurate, but smaller. They frowned on it pairing to a smartphone, and the “gamification” of drinking - but I took a different approach to it.

Information, not games

Yes, the
BacTrack mobile does have options to connect to social media - but I haven’t, and will never, connect them - not even to the @surviveadui twitter. There’s no need for that, and it’s not something I want to encourage. However, it does keep a running log of your readings, with timestamps, so that you can track how your body processes alcohol and get an idea of how many drinks does it get to make you legally drunk, not just feeling drunk.


With this information, you can start to truly understand how much you can drink, and how quickly you can get sober.
This is information that you have needed since you first started drinking. Any child I have is going to get a breathalyzer for their 21st birthday so they can start understanding how alcohol affects them, and how to drink responsibly. It’s utterly ridiculous that we put such weight and shame on people for violating this sort of thing, when almost nobody has this sort of information. The person who has made you feel bad about your DUI has almost certainly driven over the limit and not even known it. Most people who are driving at .09 and .10 have no clue they’re over the limit. Before I started using the BacTrack, I thought I was fine when I wasn’t, and I had no idea how long it could take to sober up from a few drinks, or that sometimes I was waking up and starting the next day still drunk.

Without the information, you’re just guessing, and guessing doesn’t work.


The BacTrack mobile smartphone breathalyzer is easy to work, easy to carry, and easy to hide. It does have a bright blue LED, but that’s easily covered with your fingers. I found myself easily using it while in a bathroom, walking down the street, or elsewhere. Nobody picked up on it.

To use you simply turn it on, pair it with your phone over bluetooth, and launch the app. The app requires you to guess your BAC, which many have dismissed as making it like a game, but again, I see that as an important part - you need to see how accurate you are as to how you feel to start getting a base. You’ll find that you’re often not fine when you believe you are, which is one of the best things that you can learn from a breathalyzer.

There’s the option for to use a detachable, washable mouthpiece with the unit. I opted not to, I blew directly into the machine. I don’t really plan on sharing it, and I don’t need to put anything in my mouth to blow.

The most difficult part about using the breathalyzer is getting used to the routine. You can’t just suck down a whiskey sour and then blow on it expecting instant results. You have to wait 15 - 20 minutes after your last drink, wash your mouth out with water, and not burp, hiccup, or vomit during this time. Residual alcohol in your mouth will give you a higher rating (better higher than lower). You have to also understand that all the alcohol has not been absorbed into your system after that 15 - 20 minutes. The boilermaker in your stomach is still creeping into your bloodstream for a good hour to hour-and-a-half after you drink it. Important to remember that so that you don’t take off too quickly after a drink, and good to know so that you can monitor how quickly the alcohol gets into your system.


The BacTrack comes with a carrying pouch, but I never used it. I just kept it in my jacket or glovebox and never had any sort of problem with it. Nothing got into it, or set it off weird. The charges last a good time, and charge via USB, so you can charge it in your car if you really need to.

The only thing that’s difficult is eventually the fuel cell needs to be recalibrated and sadly that’s not something you can do yourself. You have to send it back to the company and give them $25. You’re supposed to do this annually, but you can push it a little bit I found. However, it’s not a bad idea to line up recalibration with your #SoberSeptember.


Given the price, size, and accuracy, I have found the
BacTrack mobile smartphone breathalyzer to be an incredibly useful device. It’s armed me with the knowledge I need to understand how alcohol affects me, and when I am or am not ok to operate a vehicle. Had I gotten this years before maybe I would not be in the situation that I am right now. That said, I’m hoping that it will help me not be in this sort of situation in the future. It’s easy to take with me, it’s easy to use. There’s no excuse not to be informed anymore.

To Blow, Bleed, Or Say No. - Should I refuse a breathalyzer test or field sobriety test?

This is complicated, and opinions are all over the place with regards to this topic, so I’ll try to relay as much as I can.

When you get pulled over you are being investigated for a crime, whether one has been committed or not, whether it’s speeding or a DUI. As you learned from fifth grade on under the power of the 5th Amendment you do not have to provide evidence against yourself.

Except you kind of have to.

Technically you can refuse answering any question the police officer asks you outside of identifying yourself. You can refuse the field sobriety test, and the field breathalyzer.
These are your rights. However, they cops have legal loopholes around it. If you’ve felt that this whole thing is rigged against you, you’re not too far off.

Implied Consent

When you get your drivers license you sign a number of things, check a bunch of boxes without reading them or giving them much thought. It’s the American way. Unfortunately some of those can come back to bite you.

When you get your license you’re giving the state implied consent for them to test your BAC for alcohol. If you refuse to do this, you’re now breaking the law, and you can still get the DUI on top of it. Some states will even use your refusal as evidence that you were intoxicated. Ridiculous.

Refusal laws vary heavily from state-to-state. Texas just suspends your license for 6 months, Utah gives you a court hearing where you have to argue your reasons for refusing and if found to be unreasonable you get an 18-month suspension. Yikes.

In California, where I got mine, the way it works is that you can refuse the field sobriety tests, and the field breathalyzer with no real penalties except to know the cop is absolutely going to be a jerk to you and definitely take you downtown. From here you are given the choice of the station’s breathalyzer, which is a heavily regulated and court-admissible machine, or a blood test, which has to be done by a nurse, so they may take you to a hospital instead. Refuse either of these and you’re faced with a 1-year suspension, possible 96-hour jail sentence, and a 9-month DUI program. Harsh.

The penalties are rough enough to make it a really difficult decision - 1 year without driving, especially in a place as spread out as California would be incredibly difficult. It’s enough to make people take the pragmatic route and say “Well, if I do blow and get a DUI, I’ll be out of a license for 30 days minimum and 5 months maximum…”, which is a really weird place to be in.

Texas and a few other states often have “No Refusal” weekends - where they have a judge or magistrate on call. If you refuse to do your tests, they order a warrant, and force you to submit to these tests. Some cities have this law on the books 24/7. It’s disparaging to see governments willfully take the rights away from people, even if it is the rights of criminals.

Understandably if you are on probation for a DUI, you cannot refuse. I’m a little bit more ok with this since it’s a part of my conviction, and I have been made well aware of the conditions around it. The same goes for if you’re under 21, which I get as well (sorry, kids).

The Breath Test
I wasn’t asked which test I wanted to do. I was told once I was at the station that I could do a blood test, but that would mean a lot of travel and was basically given a lot of implications that they’d make it rough for me. Great. They took me into their testing room and had me blow two times, fifteen minutes apart, all while telling me to blow harder (something they’re technically not supposed to do). I blew over and that was it.

In the discovery part of the trial your lawyer will look through the documents that the police give them about the machine - last date of calibration, self-tests, etc. Once upon a time you might have been able to rely on the police letting routine maintenance of this machine to fall through the cracks, but as the machine is a proven money maker for them, I can’t imagine that happens all that often.

The Blood Test

If you opt for the blood test the cops will either take you to a hospital or have a nurse-on-staff draw blood from you. They can’t do it themselves, so don’t let them. The blood test is a more accurate test, which can either work for or against you when compared to the breath test. More importantly it provides a sample that can be retested, has lot of human components that would disqualify it in a trial, and things can go wrong. One of the guys in my DUI class claims that they may have forgotten to refrigerate his blood, causing fermentation and a higher BAC result (however he didn’t take his case to trial so it’s all moot, and who knows what the truth may be.)

However, it’s not without it’s problems - if you drank and then immediately began to drive, the time that it took you to get pulled over, taken to the station, then subsequently taken to the hospital may allow your BAC to peak at a much higher reading than the BAC level of when you were driving.

Getting your BAC level back from the lab can take some time, which can lead to 1) a period of a few weeks where you have your pending results hanging over your head, stressing you out at every turn, and 2) a situation where you may have to travel back to the police station to book yourself for this crime.

Some people are just afraid of needles, too.


So, what should you do? Sadly, I can’t answer for you. What’s important is that if you choose to do a test
only do one test. That’s all you’re required to do. Often cops will try to mount evidence against you, do not help them in this.

I’ve looked back on my case and gone back and forth on what I should have done. The decision is a lot easier knowing my BAC, but at the time of my arrest, I had no idea. Honestly, I don’t think I could have made the decision at the time. I think I would’ve been incredibly afraid of the one year without driving for refusal. Oddly enough, getting convicted of a DUI has allowed me to drive
much more than if I had refused. I felt I didn’t have an option in blowing, but if I went and took the blood test it could have easily risen to .16, where penalties would’ve been much worse than the ones I received. Plus it was more convenient, which sounds stupid and flippant, but in dealing with all of this, especially the police, there’s a large part of you that just wants to get it over so you can go wallow in self-grief.

Sometimes there’s no good options.

If I get pulled over again? Well, having gone through this, let me tell you - I’m doing everything in my power not to let that happen. The Uber bills have been stacking up, and taking the train can be a drag, but it beats the drag that would be on me if I had to go through this. Since I now have a prior, I would be not allowed to drive for
two years if I refused. That’s scary. I don’t know that I can do that.

What do lawyers say? In doing my research for this I’ve found that they’re split - some say you should absolutely never take the tests, some say refuse every test you can, the field sobriety test and field breathalyzer, and take the blood test. Some attorneys like the fallibility of the breath test. Some point out that in most cases it won’t matter a lot which test you take.

The classmates of mine that I spoke to who refused tended to regret it, mostly because they were under the impression that by not blowing they thought they could avoid the DUI charge. They could not, and received a long suspension and class because of it.

Again, if you’re out and have had too much to drink, call a cab, even if it means that you’re going to get a ticket on your car the next day. It is all so, so, so, so, so much easier than this. I’ll gladly take a $72 street cleaning ticket than have to make that decision.