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Blow into this gadget and your iPod plays a blood-alcohol alert

December 19, 2008|Dawn C. Chmielewski

Now the iPod can answer the question: Am iDrunk?

A new product called the iBreath turns Apple Inc.'s iPod into an alcohol breathalyzer.

The $79 accessory plugs into the base of the iPod and functions like a field sobriety test. The person using the iBreath exhales into a retractable "blow wand" and the internal sensor measures the blood-alcohol content. Within two seconds, it displays the results on an LED screen. A reading of 0.08 or above sets off an alarm, signaling a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit in all 50 states.

"We are absolutely not advocating drinking and driving, but we know that people just don't observe that," said Don Bassler, chief executive and founder of David Steele Enterprises Inc. in Newport Beach, an online retailer and creator of the iBreath. "We don't want people to think that this makes it all OK, but it's a safety device that we hope people will use, and it may save lives."

The iBreath is among a growing number of products for the iPod and iPhone designed to combat excessive holiday reveling. Last Call, a new application for the iPhone, provides a tool for estimating blood-alcohol content (as well as a list of attorneys who specialize in DUI arrests).

Another iPhone application, Drunk Dial, prevents people from making calls they might regret in the morning by administering a timed math test. And Taxi Magic hails a cab with a push of a button. The service, which connects the iPhone directly to computer dispatch systems, is available in 25 cities across the U.S., including Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Police Department has stepped up sobriety checkpoints to combat drunk driving over the holidays. The department charged more than 7,000 drivers with driving under the influence last year. It said drunk drivers were involved in 2,823 collisions.

Bassler said he got the idea for the iBreath from conversations with friends, who expressed concern about their older children attending parties and drinking alcohol.

"You know how they are -- they're going to sneak it if they can. They don't listen to their parents, but they listen to their iPods," Bassler said.

He said one friend suggested, "Wouldn't it be great for these kids to have breathalyzer iPods?' I said, 'Hey, there's a product there.' "

Bassler spent a year and a half developing the iBreath and gaining the seal of approval from Apple, indicating that the accessory is compatible with the iPod Nano, the iPod Classic and the iPod Touch. It will also work with the iPhone, he said.

The hope is that the iPod's cool factor will take away some of the stigma of acting responsibly and using a breathalyzer, Bassler said. That's also why the device doubles as an FM transmitter for broadcasting tunes on the iPod to an unused radio frequency, to listen to music in the car.

"We figured, OK, if it's only a breathalyzer, the chances are this thing is coming off the iPod and sitting in the drawer," Bassler said. "If we put in the FM transmitter, they might keep it on there."

Advocacy groups working to combat drunk driving worry that the iBreath might promote binge drinking and create a false sense of security.

Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she worried that young people would use the breathalyzer for drinking games, to see who could score the highest reading. (The iBreath caps readings at 0.20, more than twice the legal definition of intoxication.)

Moreover, Dean-Mooney questions the accuracy of the device. Law enforcement agents use instruments that are calibrated monthly, and accurate readings require the person taking a field sobriety test to blow "deep lung air," she said. iBreath claims to offer results in as little as five seconds within 0.01% accuracy.

"I'm afraid it not only causes young people to use it as a training tool but also gives them a false sense of security. 'I'm good to go,' " Dean-Mooney said. "Your blood-alcohol content goes up for 30 minutes after you stop drinking."

The best solution, she said, is to designate a sober driver before drinking begins, or take public transportation.

"There's no need to risk hurting yourself or other innocent people when you can simply plan ahead," Dean-Mooney said.

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dawn.chmielewski@latimes.com

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