KCBD Investigates: Disposable Breathalyzers

KCBD Investigates: Disposable Breathalyzers
Source: KCBD
Source: KCBD
Source: KCBD
Source: KCBD

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - A short-lived law in France is having an impact on the South Plains.

In 2012, the French government passed a law requiring drivers to carry at least two breathalyzer kits in every vehicle.

A shortage of devices and questions surrounding the reliability of the tests, led to the law's suspension in 2013.

While the law is no longer in effect, it is being credited with having had a dramatic impact.

France's interior minister at the time, reported the number of road deaths in France dropped by eight percent in 2012, the lowest number of deaths since 1948.

While portable breathalyzers are no longer required in vehicles, they are still available for purchase.

In fact, one of the approved devices has made its way right here, to the South Plains.

The device, called a Self Breathalyzer, is sold in convenience stories all over the city and costs about $4.

KCBD bought a few of the devices and asked people around town if they had heard of them.

"I haven't seen these before," said Texas Tech student, Mackenzie Lewis.

Lewis' mother, Jennifer, told us she had not noticed them at convenience stores either.

While the people we interviewed were not familiar with this particular device, they were intrigued.

"Can I actually like take a few of these because this would kind of be cool?" asked senior Texas Tech student, Colin Gonzales.

"This is interesting," said Texas Tech student Gavin Bigler as he examined the device.

In Texas, a person is legally intoxicated with a .08 blood or breath alcohol concentration, something the Self Breathalyzer advertises it can detect.

Each device comes with instructions, which explains you should wait 15 minutes from your last alcoholic beverage before using the device.

To begin the test, press firmly on the plastic tips located at each end of the tub in order to pierce the aluminum seal.

Without placing the tester in your mouth, inhale deeply, then blow slowly and continuously into the tube in the direction indicated.

Stop blowing as soon as the red rectangle printed on the tube turns clear.

Wait until that rectangle becomes red again, about 15 to 30 seconds.

When in contact with alcohol, the yellow crystals will turn green.

If the crystals turn green above the black line on the tube, that means you have tested above a .08.

"My thought is, are they going to buy these ahead of time before they drink?" asked Jennifer Lewis. "Or are they going to be drinking and then go, 'Wait, I am probably too drunk to drive so let me go get one of these."

Engineering student Isaac Romero said he would need to see some data before trusting the device.

According to the packaging, the device is manufactured in France and distributed here in the United States.

The company does have a website, claiming the Food and Drug Administration cleared the device, which means the company was able to document there were similar products already on the market, and a more in depth approval process was not needed.
We tried calling the company's headquarters, but no one answered.

We sent the company an e-mail and did receive a response from the director of sales who attached documents about the product along with answers surrounding liability.

According to one the documents, the Self Breathalyzer does not provide advice or make recommendations about what the user should do once they if they have tested over or under the legal limit.

"It is our mission to provide our customers with extremely accurate, reliable information about their BAC so that they can make better, more informed and more responsible decision," the document states.

It goes on to state that since the Self Breathalyzer is a "self-administered device" the company cannot be held liable.

However, the company does argue the device has "passed the very stringent requirement of NF certification and FDA clearance. The NF laboratory results show without a doubt that the Self Breathalyzer is police and military grade in its accuracy. It's people who are unpredictable - not the test."

Jennifer worries about that unpredictability of some of people who may use the device.

"If it worked, it would be fabulous. I just don't see that it wouldn't be a game to people," Jennifer said.

"Do you think if people blew and they were at a .08 or higher they would say okay, I am not going to drive because they took this test?" we asked her.

"I almost seeing them throwing it on the ground and laughing and getting in a car for the most part. I don't think people would take it seriously. Unless there is a badge standing behind it giving it to them, I think it would be a joke and that's sad," Jennifer said.

Lieutenant Bryan Witt with the Texas Department of Public Safety said they do utilize portable breathalyzers, but under state law, they have the authority to arrest a driver who tests below a .08

"If we stop you and we do field sobriety tests on you and we determine that you are intoxicated and you are under a .08, we can still arrest you and file, charge you with driving while intoxicated," Lt. Witt said.

And Lt. Witt said even the results from their portable breathalyzers are not permissible in court...

"I can rest assured that it wouldn't be allowed in court that if you are arrested for DWI, that you blew into this machine and it said you are okay to drive," Witt said.
It's a risk the people we spoke with said they are not willing to take.

"In this day and age, it's just better to be safe," Bigler said.

"I'm a fan of Uber," Gonzales said.

To learn more about Self Breathalyzers, click here.

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