Today, BACtrack devices are in more than 15,000 retail stores. They’re small enough to fit on a keychain and in a pocket, and many of them have corresponding smartphone apps.
“We live in a tech-savvy world where if you want to reach younger consumer demographics, you need the right products,” says Lauren Casparis, a BACtrack spokesperson. “We use smartphone apps to monitor all aspects of life—fitness, diet, sleep, heart rate—so why not monitor alcohol levels for both personal health and safety?”
The price of personal breathalyzers depends on the technology used. Semiconductor technology is less expensive and costs between $30 and $50. Fuel-cell technology, which provides more accurate and sometimes faster results, can cost $100 and up. Breathalyzers used in police stations, meanwhile, often cost between $5,000 and $10,000.
But even with the steep discount, these devices are carried by less than 1 percent of all drivers, according to law enforcement officials—and even that’s a generous estimate, Gohel says.
“It's a societal thing. People don’t want to put a breathalyzer in their pocket or in a car ... it just hasn't caught on yet, and I'm not sure why," says Jeffrey Rose, a police officer in West Hartford, Connecticut, whose police department makes hundreds of DUI arrests every year.
West Hartford is not alone. DUIs are one of the most common types of motor-vehicle arrests in the U.S. and have become more frequent as the law imposes steeper fines on driving under the influence, Gohel says. A driver who is pulled over for a DUI offense with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit can suffer up to $20,000 in fines over the long term, including bail, legal fees, increased auto-insurance premiums, loss of work income, court-ordered alcohol education programs, and more, according to J.C. Diaz, executive director of the Nightlife Association, and research from Bankrate.
Research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that about 7,100 deaths would have been prevented in 2012 if all drivers with BACs of .08 percent or higher had been kept off the roads.
Many researchers say personal breathalyzers could help curb the drinking and driving problem in the U.S., noting that the devices provide hard markers for people to see when their judgment might be impaired.
There are many possible reasons behind the lack of widespread adoption of personal breathalyzers among drivers. Some people might reject them because they feel using the device would be a sign that they might have a drinking problem or a DUI, and are court-ordered to use one, according to Brian Sturdivant, vice president of marketing at Breathometer, another personal-breathalyzer manufacturer.
Based on consumer research and conversations with drivers, Sturdivant says other people prefer not to know their BAC level when they’re out at a bar with friends, for example. They believe they can count drinks and manage just fine.