If you’ve seen traffic police programmes on Channel 5, you’ll know that officers use breathalysers to test a person’s alcohol level. First things first – the only safe amount of alcohol to consume before driving is no alcohol at all. Get a taxi instead for total peace of mind.
However, while a visit to your favourite local pub for a pint, glass of wine, scotch egg or simply a good chat with friends is great fun. It’s more important than ever to remember the dangers of drinking and driving.
Driving with alcohol in your system can easily end in a crash. This can obviously result in death or injury to you, your passengers or pedestrians. A drink driving conviction can cause issues with travel visas, cost you your job. Or at the very least result in a ban and your insurance skyrocketing.
The best breathalysers at a glance:
Editor’s pick: AlcoSense Pro Fuel Cell Breathalyser – buy from Amazon
Best mid-range digital breathalyser: AlcoSense Lite 2 – buy from Amazon
Best value breathalyser: Blo Executive Portable Breathalyser – buy from Amazon
A domestic breathalyser is a clever solution. Keep in in your car’s glovebox and you’ll be able to check whether you’re fit and legal to drive. Even if you’re in the slightest doubt. In short, if you like to drive to friends’ gatherings for nights out, buy one of these gadgets and keep it in your car.
We've tested this model in a lab and the accuracy is excellent. It is also country configurable and even gives you a timer until you're sober.
- Gives accurate reading
- Useful timer until you're sober
- Re-calibration is required from time to time
- Good value for a digital breathalyser
- Pocket sized and convenient
- Doesn't comply with French law
While the terminology can become hazy with police spec breathalysers, it does use the same (albeit smaller) sensor as the Pro Fuel Cell, and these are generally the best in the business. It represents slightly better value than the Pro Fuel Cell too.
- Great value for what you get
- Accurate sensor
- Limited number of languages available
It's powered by two AA batteries to make life convenient. But unfortunately, doesn't take readings in Micrograms per 100ml of blood - which is the standard in which UK police forces use when taking a sample of breath. So you'll have to convert the readings from grams of alcohol in 100ml of blood to micrograms of 100ml of blood.
- Easy to use
- Measured in BAC rather than mg/100ml
This is incredibly convenient if you're testing yourself while living in the UK, and you can also opt for mg/L, BAC, and PROM (Promile - grams of alcohol in 1 litre of blood).
- Good value
- Gives multiple measurements
- Some users have reported a lack of accuracy sometimes
- Easy to use
- Useful before driving home the next day
- Compromised quality compared to digital devices
- Easy to use
- Very affordable
- Not as great quality as the digital devices
What you need to know about breathalysers:
Does quality matter?
When it comes to breathalysers, cheap ones will simply be rubbish. We did an investigation into cheap breathalysers more than 10 years ago and sadly nothing has changed. Websites are littered with cheap breathalysers that claim to be industry-leading but offer the accuracy of a drunkard trying to get their key in the front door. Not only is this annoying, but if you incorrectly blew legal into your breathalyser and then get pulled over by the police, you could get done for drink-driving even if you thought you were fine.
There are good disposable examples that are cheap but these are one-time use products. With anything you want to use more than once it’s better to spend a bit more and look for one that will be accurate and reliable over time. A timer is a helpful option that some of the more premium examples offer. It will set an alarm that will notify you when you’re (in theory) sober. Perfect if you enjoy one too many the night before. Alcohol readings are also dependant on different factors including temperature, how deeply you breathe and how different countries process the data to get results. The best (and more expensive) breathalysers will factor these all in to get a more accurate result.
Is there any way of knowing a good quality breathalyser?
There is no standard body in the UK that can make finding a quality example a real pain unless you own a professional laboratory. The only EU country that has a standardised testing facility is France so look for breathalysers that come with NF approval (French Standard). These will be accurate. Also, be careful of models that claim they are police-grade and other such buzzwords, they are literally meaningless. Extreme examples include one cheap breathalyser that claimed to use police-grade equipment. This simply means it uses the same screws to hold it all together.
Ryan Gilmore is the Deputy Autos and Tools Editor for Parkers, specialising in car cleaning and hand tools. A veteran car cleaner; if it details, waxes or washes he’ll be on hand to make sure it’s worth your money.
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