Most people associate alcohol testing with breathalyzers or blood draws, but a comparatively new technology that detects alcohol as it leaves your body through your skin is set to take a more meaningful place among the ways in which alcohol consumption can be measured, monitored, and perhaps even used against you.
Devices to measure “transdermal alcohol content” (TAC) are not new. The most well-known is the “SCRAM” device (“Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor”), which is commonly attached to a person’s ankle to provide remote continuous monitoring of whether or how much he or she has imbibed. The basis of the technology is conceptually simple. Alcohol does not only leave your system through being consumed or through your urine—the ethanol also “sweats” through your skin in vapor form, and this can not only be detected but quantified into the equivalent of blood alcohol content (BAC).
The effectiveness and accuracy of these detection devices has been the subject of multiple studies over the years. These studies have generally concluded that the monitoring devices are reasonably precise in calculating an equivalent to BAC when they work properly, with false negative readings or unreadable data being more serious problems than false positives.
Still, transdermal monitoring remains at least theoretically subject to factors that could lead to false positive results, such as household chemical products like perfume, lotions, cleaning solutions and even hairspray if they are close enough to be picked up by the device sensor (although proponents of the technology staff that such contaminants have a short life span when it comes to triggering a false positive and that in itself can help to filter out false positives).
What’s New With Wearable Alcohol Monitors?
Until now, the use of wearable alcohol detection monitors has been confined largely to court orders—for instance, as part of a sentence for DUI conviction—or alcohol rehabilitation programs.
Personal alcohol detection monitors are currently on the market, but these use breathalyzer detection instead of transdermal. This means that in addition to your smart phone (which will have the application to receive and present the data collected from the breathalyzer), you will need to carry a separate breathalyzer device. Where you keep that device when not in use can present a problematic issue of convenience: if you leave it behind because it’s too inconvenient to carry around, that largely defeats the purpose of having a portable alcohol detection system.
A new technology advance, however, promises to make personal transdermal alcohol detection devices as practical to carry as a watch or step counter—because it, like these other devices, will be something you wear on your wrist.
The device, the BACtrack Skyn, will synchronize with your smartphone in the same way that existing personal breathalyzers do. But it will have the inherent advantage of being much easier to carry on your person while being more discreet, both of which would make monitoring your TAC level while you are drinking more practical.
What Are the Limitations and Possible Problems?
The BACtrack Skyn is still under development, so right now we don’t yet know how susceptible it might be to giving false positive or false negative readings, or how reliable or accurate it will be.
What is known is that even if it is completely reliable and accurate, its value as a real-time TAC monitor will be limited by the fact that the reading you see on your smartphone will be 45 minutes behind your actual TAC at that moment. So if you are seeing a TAC level that is equivalent to a BAC of .07 but have had another drink or two in the last 45 minutes, you may already be over the legal limit.
Another potential legal question about this device is whether, if you are wearing it during a traffic stop in which a police officer suspects you of drunk driving, the police officer might attempt to obtain the TAC data it has collected as possible evidence. Whether such an attempt would require a search warrant, for example, could raise questions that may need to be resolved through court decisions at both the trial and appeal levels.
The manufacturer of the BACtrack Skyn does not necessarily advocate its use as a personal alcohol monitor, but rather touts its usefulness in research and treatment. Nonetheless, it is not unreasonable to anticipate that, as long as it is affordable, this device could be pressed into service by individuals seeking to reduce their risk of being pulled over for DUI. If this turns out to be the case, then the DUI attorneys at Hunsucker Legal Group who are fully conversant with all of the evidentiary and other legal considerations that go with the use of transdermal alcohol detection will be invaluable in protecting your rights and freedom.