Let's say you meet some friends for dinner and have a few drinks. Have you ever wondered if you're safe to drive? The makers of the Digital Alcohol Detector claims to give you an accurate measurement of your blood alcohol content. Will $50 buy you peace of mind? Or just have you buzzing with anger?
We pick-up our volunteer at home, then head to the Jackson Police Department. That's where Sally Hopwood agrees to drink some wine, so we can test and compare the Digital Alcohol Detector to the real thing police use for evidence.
As Sally sips, we learn more about the Digital Alcohol Detector. It takes about 15 seconds to use, resets itself within a few moments, and the batteries are good to go for at least a couple of hundred uses. But here's what really jumps, an error of plus or minus 30% either way. They call that "accurate." Plus, they admit that "accuracy" also depends on individual metabolism, blowing conditions, humidity, and condition of the sensor.
Amy Jacquin tries the Digital Alcohol Detector first, and it accurately shows that She has no alcohol in her blood. But Sally does. After three glasses of wine, we wait 15 minutes and then give Sally her first breathalyzer test. We use the Digital Alcohol Detector first, and it shows .04.
I shake it to clear any moisture and reset the sensor. Then I try it again, to make sure it clears itself between uses, and it does.
So we have Sally try it a couple of more times, and it's very inconsistent. It jumps from .04 to .11 to .14. That's even greater than the 30% swing rate allowed by the manufacturer. And are any of the readings close to her real level? A breathalyzer test on the police department's machine shows her at .051.
So the Digital Alcohol Detector missed all three times. Sally drinks one more glass of wine, and then we go through the entire process again. The second batch of the home breathalyzer results shows .13 and .18. Again, a bigger margin of error than it's supposed to have. And they're both higher than the real breathalyzer test, which was point .082.
"At best, I would say what it can do is detect alcohol," said Lt. Robert Bonney. "That's about the only use I can see out of this." The levels are so unreliable, it's not even funny.
"I could see the parents using something like this to check children when they came home at night, to see if they'd been drinking alcohol, but not how much" added Lt. Bonney.
It does show that Sally has alcohol in her system. But it does not show how much. So we do not advise using the home breathalyzer to determine if you're safe to drive. We know Sally is not, so we drive her safely back to her home. And we give the Digital Alcohol Detector a 'D.'