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What to look for when buying a personal breathalyzer test

For many Wisconsin residents, the following scenario is a familiar one: You're out on the town with friends and have just a few drinks. You need to get home at the end of the night, and you still feel pretty sober, but you're not sure what a blood-alcohol test would say.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could take a breathalyzer test in advance to make sure you weren't getting behind the wheel with a blood-alcohol concentration at or above 0.08 percent? In fact, you can. Personal breathalyzer tests are becoming more and more popular. As of 2011, sales of these devices had reached nearly $285 million.

Some breathalyzers are cheap, but you usually get the accuracy that you pay for. While the most accurate machines can cost as much as $300, the investment is still cheaper than the fines you might incur with a DUI charge.

How do you know you've chosen the right machine? A recent online article says that there are several things you should look for, including FDA certification, a mouthpiece and a statement showing the device's accuracy rating.

The Food and Drug Administration tests and certifies breathalyzers because they are considered medical devices. If a product doesn't claim to be FDA certified, it is probably going to be inaccurate.

Any breathalyzer you buy should also come with an attached mouthpiece. This is to make sure that a breath sample is not contaminated by any air pollutants. You should also be able to detach and wash the mouthpiece. Speaking of accuracy, the recommended deviation rate is plus or minus 0.01 percent at most.

That being said, it is important to use your breathalyzer only as a guide and understand that a police officer's machine may give a different reading and will be the final word. If, for instance, your breathalyzer gives a reading of 0.07 percent, that doesn't necessarily mean you're legally safe to drive. When the reading is close to the legal limit, it's better to be safe than sorry.

On a final note, it is important to remember that even if you're not legally over the limit, you can still be cited for impaired driving. Therefore, a personal breathalyzer test is a good investment, but it will never be a substitute for good judgment.

Source: TheStreet.com, "Your Own Personal Breathalyzer," Jan. 17, 2013

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