Off-the-shelf breathalyzers: a false sense of security according to testing by Protégez-Vous and the CAA-Quebec Foundation

MONTREAL, Nov. 29, 2016 /CNW Telbec/ - It's the season of office parties, family get-togethers and suppers among friends... all of which can lead to overconsumption of alcohol. Are you tempted to buy a breathalyzer sold by the Société des alcools du Québec or on the Web? Beware: Protégez-Vous and the CAA-Quebec Foundation advise caution. None of the 10 models tested can be recommended. In fact, several produce inaccurate or incorrect results. And even those that work well would be of no use to you in court if a police officer decided that you were in no condition to drive.

Four reliable devices... in theory
A team of toxicologists with the Quebec Public Security Ministry's Laboratoire de sciences judiciaires et de médecine légale (medico-legal lab) supervised the tests. Six participants drank alcohol until the breathalyzer used by the Sûreté du Québec detected levels of 120 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.12), then, as their bodies gradually eliminated the alcohol, 80 mg/100 ml (0.08) and 50 mg/100 ml (0.05). At every level, the toxicologists compared the results of the official breathalyzer with those of the off-the-shelf devices being assessed.

The result: only four of the 10 models tested produced results similar to those of the Sûreté du Québec's device. BACtrack's BT-M5 mobile breathalyzer, which sells for $140, came in a solid first.

You still have to choose: drink OR drive
Protégez-Vous and the CAA-Quebec Foundation cannot, however, recommend the purchase of any of these products because, in order to work properly, they must be calibrated before their first use, then once a year thereafter. This procedure, which costs about $50 every time, requires sending the device to the manufacturer or distributor.

Furthermore, the results of such devices are not admissible in court. And at any rate, "a driver can be charged with impaired driving even if his or her blood alcohol level does not exceed the 0.08 legal limit," emphasizes Marco Harrison, Director of the CAA-Quebec Foundation, pointing out that "consumption of medications or drugs, fatigue and stress are all factors that can amplify the effects of the alcohol." That's why it's important not to drive after drinking, not to mention that penalties and costs can reach several thousands of dollars, even for a first conviction.

SAQ breathalyzer: useless
We tested one of the breathalyzers sold by the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), the disposable single-use éthylotest made by Alcootech Canada ($4 each), which performed very disappointingly. "Our experts and participants had difficulty distinguishing the change in the colour of the crystals which should enable the user to interpret the results," explains Julien Amado, journalist responsible for the automotive section of Protégez-Vous.

Asked about the poor quality of the product sold at SAQ outlets, Linda Bouchard, spokesperson for the government corporation, didn't seem overly concerned: "We still believe it's better to offer a tool that, without being the most efficient on the market, serves as an indicator that can raise our customers' awareness of responsible consumption."

Groupon and Tuango are there too
The Digital Breath Alcohol Tester, sold for $20 on group buying sites Groupon and Tuango, was not very accurate during our test. One-third of the time, it underestimated our volunteers' blood alcohol level by 30%. In addition, its results are not constant from one use to another. This breathalyzer is downright dangerous, because it can let you think you are in shape to drive, when this is not the case.

The driving simulator challenge
To see the extent to which alcohol affects an impaired driver's reflexes and faculties, watch our video (in French) showing our four "guinea pigs," with 50, 80 and finally 120 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood at the wheel of a CAA-Quebec driving simulator,

Julien Amado, journalist responsible for Protégez-Vous's automotive section, and CAA-Quebec spokesperson Annie Gauthier are available for interviews.

About Protégez-Vous
Protégez-Vous is a not-for-profit member organization of International Consumer Research and Testing. Its expert, independent team conducts tests, surveys and investigations aimed at determining the best buying choices. Its special projects, such as practical and expert guidebooks, offer content that focuses on the day-to-day lives of Quebecers, including personal finance, the home, food, health, automobiles and even justice. Protégez-Vous reaches 300,000 citizens with its publications, including a magazine, special projects, website, iPad and Android applications, newsletters and social networks.

About the CAA-Quebec Foundation
The CAA-Quebec Foundation was created in 2008. Its mission is to contribute to the advancement of road safety education. To that end, it conducts research and acts as a resource complementing other Quebec-based specialists and organizations active in the field. CAA-Quebec, a not-for-profit organization, provides all of its members with peace of mind by offering them high-quality automotive, travel, residential and insurance benefits, products and services.



Image with caption: "Logo : CAA-Quebec Foundation (CNW Group/FONDATION CAA-QUEBEC)". Image available at:

For further information: and interview requests: Annie Gauthier, CAA-Québec, Communications Advisor and Spokesperson, 514 861-7111, ext. 6260, Cell.: 514 717-4040,; Sources: Protégez-Vous, CAA-Quebec Foundation


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