SOBERCHECK: an affordable personal breathalyser
Original article - May 23, 2006 (revised 2016) Everyone has a different relationship with alcohol and that was never more obvious than during a year of trials with the Draeger SoberCheck - a compact, affordable handheld digital alcohol detector. By the time one reaches adulthood, almost everybody has had a number of experiences with alcohol and its ability to distort reality to a greater or lesser extent.
The results of the trial changed everyone involved. The SoberCheck provided dozens of our associates with a reality check on just what their blood alcohol levels were in comparison to what they thought they were - almost invariably, everyone erred several points lower than they really were and we found that this errant judgement would often have been the difference between driving legally and illegally.
Remarkably, the SoberCheck emerged as remarkable educational tool, not just in what you need to do to keep your obligation to society and ensure you are driving under the alcohol limit, but about alcohol and its effects in general. Education is about life preparedness – it is formally teaching us the things we need to know to contribute effectively and manage our lives effectively. The SoberCheck could be the enabling tool in the educational process.
The Sobercheck is about the size of a large mobile phone at 120x60x25mm though it's unlikely that you'd ever carry it on one's person.
It comes in a small case which easily fits in a glovebox and unlike the New Atlas tests where we regularly took the Sobercheck to our local bar and gave everyone a try at estimating their blood alcohol content, the glovebox is the ideal place for it.
Our not-so-clinical testing found conclusively that counting drinks was a particularly inaccurate way of estimating one's blood alcohol content - groups of people who were doing "rounds' and had drunk the same number of glasses of wine often had alarmingly different alcohol blood levels.
The more we looked, the more we realised that the old rule about "the number of standard drinks minus .01 per hour since you started" is not the best way to calculate one's alcohol levels.
It may be the average, but no-one was average when we measured them. While the size of the person is an obvious key variable in the blood alcohol level equation, there are a host of others, with gender, metabolism and the amount of food in your stomach being contributing factors but by no means the full story.
We also found alcohol levels continue to rise for at least half an hour after the last drink of alcohol and that while most people wake up with a blood alcohol reading of zero, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that the morning after a big night, you could still be legally drunk.
On the other hand, some of the larger more-seasoned veterans could make a huge dint in their reading given a few hours of sleep. There was also quite a variation on readings FROM DAY TO DAY - several times we encountered the same person drinking a similar number of drinks could result in quite different blood alcohol level if the same thing was repeated a couple of days later. Given that alcohol is the world population's legislated drug of choice, the SoberCheck's presence and subsequent results gave rise to some interesting conversation.
Most of the people who tried it were regular alcohol users and most considered they had a pretty good handle on their blood alcohol levels after a few drinks - once we'd convinced them of the accuracy of the device, most acknowledged that reality was quite different to their perceptions!
The Sober Check is an incredibly powerful education device!
There was another aspect to all this which we hadn't encountered before too - waving the Sober Check in front of someone gives you a license to ask them how many drinks they've had.
At least half the people in our local did not accurately know how many drinks they'd had by 9pm on Friday evening and those that did could not equate them with "standard drinks".
Given that most of those who tried the Sober Check during our trials were well past the age of 18 and the device offered fairly conclusive proof that their perceptions regarding alcohol levels were largely incorrect, it gives rise to possibility of revisiting society's alcohol education procedures. There is no doubt that as an adult, you will develop some form of relationship to alcohol. It may be aversion, it may be occasional use or more, but given it impairs one's perceptions to such a degree, understanding just how impaired you are is key to your personal safety.
At under US$150, the Sober Check is not just affordable to the individual - it is also now within the reach of schools and places where alcohol is served or sold.
The advent of new affordable and widely available technology to measure the levels of intoxication could save hundreds of lives every year if it were incorporated into a comprehensive rethink of the education system.
Spending US$150 is an investment in ensuring you never face a drink driving conviction. To a politician or public figure, such an incident might ruin their career. To others it might be just the inconvenience of a missing drivers license for a few years. Yet the risk-taking continues in epic proportions.
We've used Australian statistics as they are more moderate than some extreme instances and the stats are consistent and have depth, and that's where we did the testing. The average Australian consumes 7.8 litres of pure alcohol per year, giving the nation a top 20 world ranking for alcohol consumption per capita. Over 80% of Aussies consume alcohol on a regular basis, with 11% of males and 6% of females drinking daily and one third of all drinkers consuming alcohol at hazardous or harmful levels according to the Australian Institute of Criminology.
Almost a third of driver fatalities on Australian roads occur as a result of high risk drinking according to the National Drug Research Institute. Not surprisingly, young people are affected disproportionately.
The impact of alcohol on society is much greater than the individual and there's a huge opportunity to educate our children about alcohol through the education system that is being missed.
Such was the impact of the SoberCheck on some of the trial participants that they suggested the Sober Check was the best alcohol education tool possible and that the current education system was remiss in not addressing the downsides of the drug and the massive variance each person had in tolerance to it.
It certainly provided some staunch argument that the legal age for the consumption of alcohol should be lowered so that students could learn to deal with alcohol while they could be reached by the education system, and the availability of an accurate, low-cost alcohol detector should be considered in looking at the curriculum in the future.
There's also an even stronger argument for separating the age of legal consumption and the legal age for driving an automobile given what we learned from the Sober Check.
The Sobercheck is now superceded but at the time of testing, it was available from Alkomat.