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Gadget Review: personal alcohol detectors
Monday, July 08 2002
by Matthew Clark

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It's always safer to have no drinks at all before driving. However, there are people who can't or won't abide by that rule.

As such, the Hyundai Trade Corporation and PNI have developed products that will hopefully protect such people and other drivers should they feel the need to take to the road after drinking.

Hyundai's three so-called personal alcohol detectors, named Safe-check, Safe-drive and Safe-mate, will tell users whether they have had too much to drink or not before they hit the road. And Hyundai is not the only firm making them. PNI (Precise Navigation) produces similar products that come with liquid crystal displays, although they aren't available in Europe.

Hyundai's products aren't sold in Ireland yet either, but the company is actively looking for distributors here. Indeed, there are many companies making similar products, though PNI and Hyundai appear to be the only firms producing low cost units designed exclusively for private use.

Frankly, there is not much to these little gizmos. Users just breathe into them and, in the case of Hyundai's Safe-mate and PNI's BT3500 (or the more advanced 5500), the driver will get a read-out of their blood alcohol content (BAC). Safe-check and Safe-drive simply have red, amber and green lights, telling users whether they should abstain from driving. A piece of technology inside the devices, aptly named the gas sensor, detects how much booze users have ingested.

Generally, the devices are about 3 inches long and between 1.5 inches wide. They weigh less than two ounces and some models come on a keychain. PNI's units run on AAA batteries and are good for about 200 uses, while Hyundai's work 800 times on AA batteries. The companies say the devices are approved by various agencies, including the FDA, the US Department of Transportation and the EU. Be warned though, it's unclear just what kind of approvals they have been granted.

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