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Stay safer while drinking with apps, gadgets

8:49 AM, Dec 31, 2013   |    comments
The upcoming Alcohoot attaches to your iPhone or Android headphone jack, and is available for preorder for $99.(Photo: Alcohoot)
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How awkward would it be if your smartphone blabbed to everyone on Facebook and Twitter when you'd had one too many drinks at a holiday party? While there's no amount of technology that can truly save us from ourselves when it comes to partying a little too hard, there are a whole host of new apps and high-tech gadgets that can - at least in theory - warn you if you're too tipsy to drive home. And yes, some of those tools can actually shoot blood alcohol level shout-outs to your gang on social media.

THE BUZZ ON BREATHALYZERS

The big buzz (pardon the pun) in so-called breathalyzer apps today is actual smartphone breathalyzer technology. These are the real deal: palm-sized breathalyzer devices you plug into your smartphone and breathe into to calculate your actual blood alcohol level. These devices are about the same size as a car key - perfect for attaching to a key ring - and allow you monitor your blood alcohol level, graph your drinking over time, hail a taxi and share your activity on social media.

The upcoming Alcohoot attaches to your iPhone or Android headphone jack, and is available for preorder for $99. The Breathometer works the same way with both iPhone and select Android devices and costs just $49. Of the three I tested, this was the easiest to use, which could be a huge bonus when you've had a few drinks. Another alternative is the handheld BACtrack unit. It doesn't actually plug into your smartphone, but does connect via Bluetooth to provide instant readings - with models ranging from keychain devices for $40 to a new mobile breathalyzer for $250.

You can see me actually put all three of these devices to the test in the Tech Now video above. (Spoiler alert; two drinks of anything alcoholic and I'm basically three sheets, and the amount of time it takes me to get back to normal is three times longer than I would have guessed. I think a lot of you would be surprised how little it takes to make you "impaired," and how long it takes to make you "safe," again. Good lesson for even the most salty and seasoned among us ... )

APPS TO KEEP TRACK OF WHAT GOES IN

New gadgets aren't all that partiers have on hand this year. There are also several apps that can come along to the party in a pocket or purse to help you estimate your blood alcohol based on your height, weight and other physical characteristics. Of course, accurate tracking relies on you staying sober enough to actually log each drink you down. Yes, that can be a problem.

For Android devices, try:

- AlcoDroid

- Breathalyzer

- Sober App

- Drive Sober



For iPhone and Apple devices, look at

- DrinkTracker

- Last Call

- Gauge

- iDrink Smarter



The catch, of course, is that none of these devices can guarantee someone is safe to drive. "It is NEVER safe to drink and drive," flatly states iDrinkSmarter on its iTunes download page. Using an app or breathalyzer device to record a blood alcohol level at or under legal drunk driving limits is no guarantee of either legal or safe driving.

The real benefit of the new monitoring apps and gadgets are how they help people keep an eye on how much alcohol they've been imbibing and stop at responsible limits. Drinking and driving - even among those who insist they're "only a little tipsy" was responsible for more than 10,000 deaths across the United States in 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Across all 50 states, a blood alcohol level about 0.08% will land you in trouble for drunk driving. The real danger line may be even lower, says the National Transportation Safety Board, which is pushing to lower the legal threshold to 0.05%.

So what's a New Year's Eve celebrant to do? If keeping up with your blood alcohol level all night isn't your idea of fun, and being a tea-totaller is out of the question too, maybe what you need is a pickup service. Yep, there's an app for that too. StearClear app for iOS or Android lets you call a professional driver to usher both you and your car safely home. Payment and tips are handled through the app based on details you've already entered - convenient, safe, and confusion-proof.

At this point, you may be wondering if you shouldn't cut down on drinking altogether. Along comes the Drinking Mirror app, putting a damper on the fun by using your own photograph to show how alcohol ravages your appearance over time. That's the kind of New Year's Eve selfie we could do without - but it's another way today's tech is helping us find healthy, safe ways to indulge.

Stay safe out there - and Happy New Year!

Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor and host of USA TODAY's digital video show TECH NOW. E-mail her at techcomments@usatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JenniferJolly.

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