If you have any sense at all, you’ll never mix drinking and driving but no matter how conscientious a drinker are, there will always the odd moment when you’re not sure if you’re over the limit or under. For most people, the majority of these moments will happen the morning after a heavy night, when you roll out of bed with a sore head and need to get somewhere in a hurry.
But how do you know if you’re over the limit? Barring making a very rough, back-of-a-fag-packet calculation, which might take into account your sex, but not your size or weight, your general state of health or when you last ate (all of which affect the rate at which your body processes alcohol), you’re in the dark. Best to play it safe, then, and wait until later.
For professional drivers and those who drive to work every day, though, that’s often not an option. And the result is that many end up taking to the roads when they’re not legal to drive.
Know your limits
The answer is to use a breathalyser and the prevalence of such devices has spread in recent times to the point at which it’s now possible to pick up a reusable digital unit from Amazon for as little as £11.
Can you trust such devices? Or is it best to spend more money on something like the Alcosense Excel (£99) or the Alcosense Pro (£150)? And exactly how easy are these things to use?
The latter question is an easy one to answer. Both the Excel and Pro are incredibly straightforward to operate; in fact, you’d have to be literally blind drunk before you’d find it too difficult to use either to take a reading. Just slide up the front panel, pop the plastic breather tube into the analyser and wait for it to warm up, then breathe steadily into the device, taking care not to puff to hard or too soft, after which you’re given your results instantly onscreen.
The difference between the Excel and the Pro is that the latter gives you a gauge on the screen that helps you pitch the pressure and flow of your breathing so you don’t have to guess. It also allows you to pre-select which country’s drink-drive limit you want to compare your results with, where the Excel merely shows your results in either mg/L of breath or blood alcohol percentage.
And, if you are over the limit, the Alcosense Pro will also give you a rough estimation of when it thinks you’ll be sober and set an alarm for you to remind you to test yourself again.
Are they accurate? Absolutely. Both use fuel cell sensors to measure your lack of sobriety (cheaper digital breathalysers tend not to use fuel-cell sensors and aren’t as reliable) – that’s the same tech police breathalysers employ – and while the Pro’s sensor is larger than the Excel’s for increased accuracy and reliability, they’re both on the button out of the box.
How do I know this? When the guys at Alcosense dropped off the breathalysers at our offices they also brought along a police-issue, evidential breathalyser – the kind they use in police stations to take the readings that are eventually used in court – and a piece of equipment used to provide a steady stream of alcoholic breath.
When tested, both Alcosense devices agreed with the readings provided by the £13,000 police reader. Job done, although I should mention that they do need to be sent away for recalibration every 12 months, which will set you back £20.
Do you really need one?
The Alcosense Excel and especially the Pro are great products. They’re easy to use and packed with thoughtful features and, most importantly, they’re accurate. But is it worth your while spending up to £150 on one?
If you enjoy a drink and you rely on being able to drive for a living, then yes, absolutely. These devices will tell you unequivocally and, with absolute clarity, if you’re OK or not OK to drive.
For everyone else, it’s a slightly more marginal case, but I’d still argue it’s worth thinking about if only to check up how quickly your body absorbs alcohol.