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Personal Breathalyzer Helps Change Behaviors Around Drinking & Driving

By Libby Smith

DENVER (CBS4) - More than 23,000 Coloradans were arrested for DUI last year. The Colorado Department of Transportation is hoping to lower that number. It's been testing a tool that helps people make smarter choices.

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"I thought it was just kind of a neat experiment," said Hayley Lumb, a participant in the study.

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CDOT gave 225 randomly selected people a BACtrack personal breathalyzer device, and asked them to use it for three months. In the study participants took three online surveys to track their progress.

LINK: BACtrack

"Definitely learned that when you sometimes feel like you're okay to drive, you're not … and vice versa," Lumb told CBS4.

Steve McCrumb also participated in the summer study.

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"I've always thought I could drink and handle it fairly well, one or two drinks … not a big deal. You know, I quickly realized one drink was not what I thought it was," McCrumb explained.

He said that using BACtrack has made him a more conservative drinker.

"By and large, just about everyone told us it did prevent them from drinking and driving," said Sam Cole, spokesperson for CDOT's Highway Safety Division.

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CDOT's Highway Saftey Division did the study to see if a device like BACtrack would actually change behavior. Eighty-four-percent of participants said it did.

RELATED: CDOT Video Of BACtrack Study

"Being more aware of what their blood alcohol content was was enormously helpful in getting them to make the smart decision, the right decision when it comes to drinking and driving," Cole said.

CBS4 wanted to see how the device worked, so CBS4 newsroom administrator Lindsey went out for a couple of cocktails.

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"If I'm going out with friends, I usually have two to three cocktails on the weekend. That would be normal," Lindsey explained.

She drank two whiskey-ginger cocktails, and reported feeling a little fuzzy, but she still felt okay to drive. After waiting 15 minutes, she blew into the BACtrack device, and the app on her cellphone estimated her blood alcohol content at .04, hallway to the legal limit for driving.

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"Your reasoning and memory might be impaired. Your inhibitions might be lowering," Lindsey read from the app.

BACtrack also shows you how long until the alcohol is out of your system completely.

"BACtrack uses alcohol fuel cell sensor technology, that's the same technology used by devices the police use," said Keith Nothacker, CEO of BACtrack.

The makers of BACtrack promote that some of their products are as accurate as police breathalyzers. The New York Times compared three personal breathalyzers to a highway patrolman's breathalyzer and found BACtrack readings were closest to the law enforcement readings.

"We do tons of internal study of the accuracy. We compare them to many different devices," Nothacker added.

For casual drinkers, like Lumb and McCrumb, a device like this has shown to improve decision making, and could reduce the number of drinking and driving incidents in Colorado.

The BACtrack used in the CDOT study and that CBS4 used is called the BACtrack Mobile Pro and retails for $99.99. It's sold at most major retailers.

CDOT is in the process of getting further funding to put more BACtrack devices in the hands of drivers.

Libby Smith is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. If you have a story you'd like to tell CBS4 about, call 303-863-TIPS (8477) or visit the News Tips section.

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