Article Text

Diagnostic accuracy study of three alcohol breathalysers marketed for sale to the public
  1. Helen F Ashdown,
  2. Susannah Fleming,
  3. Elizabeth A Spencer,
  4. Matthew J Thompson,
  5. Richard J Stevens
  1. Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Helen F Ashdown; helen.ashdown{at}phc.ox.ac.uk

Abstract

Objectives To assess the diagnostic accuracy of three personal breathalyser devices available for sale to the public marketed to test safety to drive after drinking alcohol.

Design Prospective comparative diagnostic accuracy study comparing two single-use breathalysers and one digital multiuse breathalyser (index tests) to a police breathalyser (reference test).

Setting Establishments licensed to serve alcohol in a UK city.

Participants Of 222 participants recruited, 208 were included in the main analysis. Participants were eligible if they were 18 years old or over, had consumed alcohol and were not intending to drive within the following 6 h.

Outcome measures Sensitivity and specificity of the breathalysers for the detection of being at or over the UK legal driving limit (35 µg/100 mL breath alcohol concentration).

Results 18% of participants (38/208) were at or over the UK driving limit according to the police breathalyser. The digital multiuse breathalyser had a sensitivity of 89.5% (95% CI 75.9% to 95.8%) and a specificity of 64.1% (95% CI 56.6% to 71.0%). The single-use breathalysers had a sensitivity of 94.7% (95% CI 75.4% to 99.1%) and 26.3% (95% CI 11.8% to 48.8%), and a specificity of 50.6% (95% CI 40.4% to 60.7%) and 97.5% (95% CI 91.4% to 99.3%), respectively. Self-reported alcohol consumption threshold of 5 UK units or fewer had a higher sensitivity than all personal breathalysers.

Conclusions One alcohol breathalyser had sensitivity of 26%, corresponding to false reassurance for approximately one person in four who is over the limit by the reference standard, at least on the evening of drinking alcohol. The other devices tested had 90% sensitivity or higher. All estimates were subject to uncertainty. There is no clearly defined minimum sensitivity for this safety-critical application. We conclude that current regulatory frameworks do not ensure high sensitivity for these devices marketed to consumers for a decision with potentially catastrophic consequences.

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/

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