Portable breathalyzer device could prevent drunk driving

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ByJonathan Bloom KGO logo
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
New portable breathalyzer device comes with warning from experts
A Bay Area company has a new device to help people determine if they've had too much, but it comes with a warning from experts.

BURLINGAME, Calif. (KGO) -- For all the holiday cheer, this time of year is also known for something else -- drunk driving.

A Bay Area company has a new device to help people determine if they've had too much, but it comes with a warning from experts.

Each year, drunk drivers kill hundreds of people in California and to State Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, it's more than just a number.

"My best friend was killed by a drunk driver about 30 years ago," Hill said.

Hill has been a driving force behind stricter penalties for DUIs. Now, he's cautiously optimistic about a new product.

The company, called Breathometer, has been on ABC's Shark Tank and they really cleaned up.

Now their second product is better and smaller.

"You can put it in your pocket, you can put it in your purse. Most of the time, when people do have a breathalyzer, a traditional breathalyzer, they leave it in the car," Breathometer Marketing Vice President Brian Sturdivant said.

Breathometer wants people to use the $100 gadget long before they go to the car.

"When you're out with your friends, prior to having another drink -- at least you know in advance," Sturdivant said.

Having a blood alcohol reading can be a good thing, but police in Burlingame caution to not put too much weight on that number.

"It could instill a false sense of security, that, 'Oh, I'm below the legal limit, I'm safe to drive,'" Burlingame Police Department's Sgt. Jay Kiely said.

Police say blood alcohol can continue to rise as a person's body processes that last drink. Also, people don't have to be .08 to be impaired.

"If you just can't tolerate alcohol that well, you could be arrested under a certain section that doesn't require you to be over a .08," Kiely said.

It's one reason Mothers Against Drunk Driving has not endorsed the new devices.

The makers hear those concerns. "Once you've hit a .05 or higher, we actually show 'Get home safe,'" Sturdivant said.

That's one-touch access to an Uber driver, a cab company or an open restaurant to go sober up.

The app shows how long until you're back to zero.

Hill hopes people use those tools with a healthy dose of common sense to stay safe.

"If this can keep, if it's one person from getting behind a wheel drunk and driving a vehicle and possibly killing themselves or someone else, there's a benefit to it," Hill said.