Special Report : The Myth Behind The Breathalyzer App

 Drunk driving is a growing problem across the country. 

It’s no different in Traverse City, where DUI arrests are on the rise. 

A drink or two over dinner.

A night on the town with your friends.

Sooner or later, many face the same problem.

Am I okay to drive?

While police say drinking and getting behind the wheel is never a good idea, too many people still do. 

And Sgt. Brian Gillis sees the consequences more than he wants to. 

“My goal at the end of the day is to make sure the person who wasn’t drinking and driving made it home. It just compiles one bad decision after another anytime you add alcohol and a motor vehicle.”

In 2014, Gillis and other officers busted 70 drunk drivers, just in Traverse City alone. 

Police have a few ways of finding them, most are familiar with the breathalyzer or preliminary breath test. 

But now anyone can access similar technology with their smartphone. 

Smartphone breathalyzers. 

It promises to give people peace of mind. 

And it’s easy to use, you just simply download the app, plug it in and play.

But police are skeptical. 

“I know what our breathalyzers, preliminary breath tests go through. I know they’re very expensive but they’re expensive for a reason, because they work. “

And with claims like that, we just had to see for ourselves. 

So, six-pack in hand, we headed off to the Antrim County Jail to meet with a deputy, willing to test their breathalyzer against ours. 

“We’re here taking a look at how this smartphone breathalyzer stacks up to the real deal, a standard, police issue breathalyzer.”

And beer, after beer, after beer

Our test went on.

In the first round, our device actually mirrored the police version. 

But the accuracy of that first test didn’t last. 

After a few more beers, we tested again.

“Three, two, one, go. As you can see, this reads .039, this is .06.”

Back at the office, I even tried it myself.

Again, the results weren’t good. 

Even without drinking, my levels registered as high as a .04. 

“I wouldn’t be real comfortable with this. I don’t know if it’s the technology or what but that’s a gamble that I wouldn’t be willing to take.” 

Studies show that similar plug-and-play breathalyzers aren’t much better. 

And this one comes with a disclaimer: no guarantees. 

“It’s up to you to make that choice.”

So the question is; do you let a device like this dictate your decision to drive?

Sgt. Gillis believes it luring many into a false sense of security.

“It could, you’re basing a big assumption on something that could really affect you for the rest of your life.”

It’s a concern based on scientific fact, everyone deals with alcohol differently.

That’s why police use field sobriety tests like walking a straight line, checking your gaze and reciting the alphabet. 

They really are the most accurate, because they measure actual impairment. 

Sgt. Gillis agrees that to base our investigation on one tool, is wrong. 

The best solution is to understand your body, your plans and think. 

That may be low tech but police say it’s still the safest. 

“You have to be smart and know your body and know if you’re drunk, don’t drive. If you’ve had a lot to drink, you shouldn’t be driving, just plan ahead. 

“It’s about making the right decisions and a $30.00 cab is a lot cheaper than a $10,000 OWI.”