The 10 Best Breathalyzers

Updated May 04, 2018 by Ezra Glenn

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We spent 43 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. Every 51 minutes in America, someone is killed in a car crash due to drunk driving. There's no substitute for staying sober if you know you have to get behind the wheel, and there are no excuses for putting yourself or others at risk. That being said, if you're at a party or a bar, one of these breathalyzers can help you determine when the responsible choice is to call for a cab home. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best breathalyzer on Amazon.

10. AlcoHawk Precision

Don't leave home without the AlcoHawk Precision, which features a robust design made of an impact-resistant ABS material. The nice leatherette carrying case makes it simple to take anywhere, but it is not as compact as some models on the market.
  • side grooves allow for a firm grip
  • mail order recalibration is costly
  • chirping alarm sound is not pleasant
Brand AlcoHawk
Model Q3I-3000
Weight 6.4 ounces
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

9. BACtrack Keychain

It doesn't get much more convenient than the BACtrack Keychain, which ensures you'll always have a simple and affordable way to check your blood alcohol content. The folding mouthpiece pulls out during testing and slides back down for storage.
  • comes in five colors
  • includes a single aa battery
  • may produce inconsistent readings
Brand BACtrack
Model BT-KC10
Weight 3.2 ounces
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

8. AlcoHawk Elite Slim

Test with confidence using the AlcoHawk Elite Slim, which is the ideal solution for someone looking for a portable device of professional quality. Its rounded corner design looks elegant and fits comfortably in your pocket.
  • calibrated prior to shipment
  • includes a quick-start guide
  • works slowly in cold weather
Brand AlcoHawk
Model Q3I-2700
Weight 5.6 ounces
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

7. AlcoMate Premium AL7000

The cutting-edge AlcoMate Premium AL7000 features patented Prism technology, which allows for quick and easy replacement of your old sensor module with a new one, ensuring your device will always stay as accurate as it was on the day it was purchased.
  • dot approved for law enforcement
  • internal mouthpiece storage
  • takes up to two minutes per reading
Brand AlcoMate
Model AL7000
Weight 1.3 pounds
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

6. Vandora Tester

The Vandora Tester boasts a semiconductor sensor that can judge whether you're safe to drive within a few seconds. It runs on three AAA batteries and is most accurate at least 20 minutes after your last drink, though you can test yourself every 3 minutes or so.
  • audio and visual warning alarms
  • energy saving auto-shutoff function
  • feels a bit cheaply made
Brand Vandora
Model pending
Weight 9.6 ounces
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

5. AlcoMate Revo

The top-quality AlcoMate Revo stands out because its fuel cell never requires factory calibration, which most models need at least annually to maintain efficacy. It is convenient, accurate and approved by the DOT, FDA and US Coast Guard.
  • easy one-button operation
  • hard shell carrying case
  • fast results on a four-digit display
Brand BreathalyzersUSA
Model pending
Weight 1.2 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

4. BACtrack Mobile

The BACtrack Mobile uses police-grade sensor technology for consistent results, and wirelessly connects via Bluetooth to your Android or iOS device. The included companion app can be used to save and chart your blood alcohol content readings over time.
  • long battery life
  • estimates when you will be sober
  • smartphone required for use
Brand BACtrack
Model BT-M5
Weight 6.4 ounces
Rating 4.4 / 5.0

3. Jastek Professional Grade

The Jastek Professional Grade offers semiconductor technology in a sleek handheld design that fits snugly in most purses or pockets. It's quite easy to use, thanks to its single button operation and informative user manual, and it comes with five mouthpieces.
  • weighs less than three ounces
  • includes a handy lanyard
  • backed by a 1-year warranty
Model pending
Weight 7.8 ounces
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

2. BACtrack S80 Professional

The trusted BACtrack S80 Professional ensures accurate test results with its internal mini-solenoid pump system. This one is helpful in zero-tolerance zones, thanks to a four-digit readout that can register even trace amounts of alcohol.
  • fast refresh time
  • pocket-sized for easy portability
  • includes 6 reusable mouthpieces
Brand BACtrack
Model BT-S80
Weight 9.1 ounces
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

1. AlcoTrace Advanced

In just a few seconds, the AlcoTrace Advanced delivers highly accurate readings on its 4-digit LCD screen. It comes with five mouthpieces that have special valves to prevent germ transfer between uses and a 60-day money-back guarantee in case anything goes wrong.
  • mouthpieces are dishwasher safe
  • helpful onscreen instructions
  • includes a rugged carrying case
Brand Alco Trace
Model pending
Weight 11.2 ounces
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

The Pre-breathalyzer Days

Before cars became commonplace, an overly intoxicated person was just a minor nuisance for the rest of society. People walking or riding a bicycle or horse home after a long night of drinking posed little danger to others. Driving a car while drunk was an entirely different matter. Even with few cars on the road, drunk driving was already a problem, and by 1910, New York instituted the nation's first drunk driving laws.

After the end of World War I, cars became more affordable for the common man. They were no longer just playthings for the rich, which meant an increased number of cars on the road, and, in turn, even more drunk drivers. Despite the passing of the Prohibition Act in 1920, drivers were still commonly getting behind the wheel while drunk, which was leading to an increasing number of causalities.

At the time, the only way for a policeman to determine whether a driver was too drunk to drive was by observing the driver for known signs of intoxication, including bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and the smell of alcohol on the breath. They also used a series of agility and balance tests, which have since become known as field sobriety tests. This also meant that being too drunk too drive was subjective, as there was no way to truly determine exactly how much a person had drunk. What one policeman may have considered intoxicated, another policeman might not.

When prohibition was repealed in 1933, the drunk driving problem only worsened. In the first six months of 1934, drunk driving deaths in Chicago quadrupled compared to the previous year, before prohibition was repealed. This lead to an increased urgency among public health officials and the government to find a solution to the problem.

Early Breathalyzers

Work first began on creating a device capable of determining how intoxicated a person was in the 1920s. It was already known at the time that blood could provide a reliable measure of blood alcohol content (BAC), but as drawing blood is quite invasive, it wasn't a practical option for policeman during field stops. In 1927, Dr. Emil Bogen conducted a study to see what other options there were to determine BAC. He learned that breath was just as reliable as blood.

He went on to create a device comprised of a large football bladder filled with a combination of potassium dichromate and sulpheric acid. When intoxicated people breathed into the bladder, the chemicals inside would change from yellow to shades of blue or green based on the amount of alcohol on their breath. The color of the chemicals were then compared to tubes, which contained the same chemicals and a known amount of alcohol. This device was effective, but still impractical for roadside use.

In 1931, another scientist by the name of Dr. Rolla N. Harger announced his work on a different method for using breath to determine BAC, and by 1938 he had a functioning device. When asked the name of his device, Harger half jokingly said "the Drunkometer," but joke or not, the name stuck. There were a few other devices created at the same time that could also be used to determine BAC by breath: the Intoximeter, and the Alcometer.

The Indiana State Police conducted the first real world test of Harger's device around the same time that the Intoximeter was being implemented by the Los Angeles Police. Harger's device proved to be more successful, and by 1940 a number of other police departments in different parts of country were using it.

The Modern Day Breathalyzer

Robert F. Borkenstein invented the first modern day breathalyzer in 1954. It was the first truly portable breathalyzer that could be included in every police officers toolkit. It didn't have any of the large bladders or complex chemical solutions of the previous devices. Borkenstein's breathalyzer was comprised of two filters, two photo cells, a device to collect the breath, and six wires. It utilized chemical oxidation and photometry to determine alcohol concentration. Newer breathalyzer models have converted to using infrared spectroscopy, but they still function in much the same way.

Even with a reliable way to determine a driver's BAC, Americans still adopted a lenient attitude towards drunk driving. When other countries in the world, like those in Scandinavia, had legal driving BACs of 0.05 or 0.08 percent in the 1940s, America still considered anything under 0.15 percent as not intoxicated and not worthy of prosecution. Currently all 50 states have the legal driving limit set at 0.08 percent.

It wasn't until the 1960s that America's national attitude towards drunk driving began to change. In 1964, Borkenstein conducted the Grand Rapids Study, which estabilished a definitive link between car accidents and high blood alcohol content. Four years later, in 1968, the U.S. Department of Transportation conducted their own study and found that 50 percent of fatal car accidents in the United States involved alcohol.

The most modern breathalyzers are electronic and use fuel sensors to accurately determine BAC within a few seconds. Most feature a backlit digital display and are small enough to fit in the pocket for easy carrying, allowing one to double check their BAC before stepping behind the wheel.

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Last updated on May 04, 2018 by Ezra Glenn

Ezra is a writer, photographer, creative producer, designer, and record label-operator from New York City. He's traveled around the world and ended up back where he started, though he's constantly threatening to leave again.

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