Updated 17 September 2013

New apps read blood alcohol levels

Before getting behind the wheel, drivers can test their blood alcohol level with new apps that not only give a blood alcohol reading, but also calls a cab.


Before getting behind the wheel, drivers can test their blood alcohol level with new apps that not only give a blood alcohol reading, but also calls a cab.

Breathometer, for iPhones and Android smart phones, and BACtrack, for iPhones, display a user's blood alcohol level within seconds on smart phone-connected breathalysers.

"People think, 'Oh, I'm driving around the corner,' but it's not until they get pulled over that they realise they're over the limit," said Charles Michael Yim, chief executive of Breathometer, based in Burlingame, California.

More than 1.2 million people were arrested in the United States in 2011 for driving under the influence, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data.

Yim said his company's aim is to prevent drunk driving by raising awareness of alcohol levels and enabling drivers to make smarter decisions.

Accuracy within 0.01%

The Breathometer plugs into a smart phone's headphone jack, and the user blows on the device. The BACtrack connects to the iPhone via Bluetooth. Both use sensors that meet US Food and Drug Administration standards and can detect blood alcohol levels with accuracy within 0.01%, according to the companies.

Yim said breathalysers have been around since the 1950s, and by pairing them with smart phones, making them smaller and more cost effective, more people will be able to use them.

"We are catering to a completely different audience that wouldn't have considered buying one before," he said.

Breathometer's breathalyser is the size of a car key and fits into a pocket or on a key chain. The app can detect a user's GPS location, order a cab if the user can't drive home, and estimate how long it will take for the user to become sober.

"Just checking blood alcohol levels can help you be more aware of your body. If you blow 0.02% or 0.04% you might think, 'I better stop drinking,'" Yim said.

Ethanol sensor

In all 50 US states, a blood alcohol level above 0.08% is considered drunk driving. The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending the limit be reduced to 0.05%. More than 10 000 people died in drunk driving accidents in the United States in 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Breathometer app reads signals after the user has blown into the breathalyser. An ethanol sensor embedded in the device detects alcohol on the breath and converts this into a signal, which the app processes.

The app, which costs $49, will be released worldwide in October on the Internet and in stores the following month.

San Francisco-based BACtrack, founded in 2001, was the first company to receive US government clearance to sell breathalysers for personal use. Its breathalyser, which includes a mouthpiece, costs $150.

The app also tracks a user's drinking habits in a graph, and can estimate when a user's blood alcohol level will return to zero. Users can also share their blood alcohol levels through text message, Facebook or Twitter.

"It's not about whether you're at 0.05% or 0.08%. If you even have 0.01% you should not be driving," said Yim.





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