by James A. Martin

Are You Being (Over)served? Mobile Breathalyzer for iOS & Android Tells You

Nov 26, 20133 mins
AndroidiPhoneMobile Apps

Just in time for the holiday cheer season comes the Android release of the BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer app. Together with the BACtrack device, the app records your blood alcohol content and warns you if you've been, ahem, overserved.

Sometimes, especially during the holidays, the Quantified Self — the popular movement in which you track your activities using gadgets like a Fitbit — transforms into the Inebriated Self.  

When that happens, it’s time to blow into a small gadget that analyzes your breath for its Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). The device, which looks as if it were designed to light electronic cigarettes, is called the BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer ($150).

Via Bluetooth, BACtrack connects to its free namesake app on your iOS device. An Android app was recently released as well. After initiating the connection, the app gives you a countdown timer. When the time is up, blow into the BACtrack device—and trust me, you need to blow as hard as possible. Within a few seconds, the app will give you a BAC reading as well as an interpretation of the BAC number.

BACtrack iOS screen shot

For example, on a recent night out, I had two cocktails with dinner, strictly in the spirit of research. I waited for 15 minutes after drinking and eating, which is what the app recommends. Then I went to the restroom and blew into the Breathalyzer. (I don’t recommend using the BACtrack in public, unless looking like a drunk nerd is your style).

On this occasion, I received a reading of 0.09, which meant my “judgment is impaired and motor skills debilitated.” It’s also above the 0.08 BAC limit in California, where I live, though the app didn’t tell me that. Rather than, say, using GPS to determine your location and the state’s BAC limit, the BACtrack app simply tries to discourage anyone from driving with even a 0.01 reading.

“It is unsafe to drive at any intoxication level,” a reminder states. “While you are under the legal driving limit, you can still be arrested for DUI at (the 0.01) level.”

I understand and appreciate BACtrack’s intent — you don’t want to inadvertently encourage someone to get behind the wheel because they’re still under the state’s legal BAC limit. At the same time, if the app and device’s ultimate purpose is to discourage anyone who’s had a drink from driving, will people pay $150 for that?

More to the point, I suspect the $150 price tag will deter many casual drinkers from using the BACtrack’s Mobile Breathalyzer. That’s too bad, because knowing your BAC in real-time could help save lives—or at least prevent an unfortunate DUI arrest.

Ultimately, if you’re into the Quantified Self movement and want to exercise caution when drinking, I think the device is worth the investment. The app tracks your drinking habits by location, date and time, type of drink, and other criteria. If you’re feeling bold (or boozy), you can even share your BAC results via Facebook or Twitter. But in my opinion, sharing BAC feels like TMI.