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Fund this: Breathometer turns your smartphone into a breathalyzer

This Indiegogo campaign hopes to bring a small, keychain-friendly blood-alcohol meter to market. Just plug it into your phone and blow.

The Breathometer is a "plug-and-blow" device that instantly reveals your blood-alcohol concentration.
The Breathometer is a "plug-and-blow" device that instantly reveals your blood-alcohol concentration.

Everyone knows the dangers of drinking and driving. An unfortunate few choose to ignore them, often with tragic results. A good friend recently lost his nephew to a drunk driver. A member of my temple congregation lost his wife and children to a drunk driver. That same temple later lost its rabbi to a drunk driver. Shall I go on?

Obviously I'd rather not, which is why I fully support any technology that can help prevent such tragedies. Here's a gizmo that might: Indiegogo project Breathometer adds a breathalyzer to your smartphone.

Reminiscent of the Square credit-card reader, the Breathometer is a small, white dongle that plugs into your phone's headphone jack. From there an app takes over (Android or iOS), quickly reporting your blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) so you know whether or not it's safe to drive. (In the United States, the legal limit is 0.08, though individual states may have stricter regulations.)

One could easily argue that this won't stop, say, an alcoholic from getting behind the wheel. But I think a device like this is better-suited to casual or infrequent drinkers, those who simply might not know if they're over the legal limit or not. (Say you had a big glass of wine with dinner. Are you positive it's safe for you to drive?) Likewise, if you're out with a group of friends, everyone always thinks they're "OK to drive," but the Breathometer can quickly establish who is and who isn't.

And even if it won't stop all drunk drivers, it might help stop a few -- and that's a step in the right direction. The developer plans to add more functionality to the app down the road, like a one-tap option to summon a taxi.

The Breathometer has raised about one-fourth of the $25,000 needed to fully fund the project. Pledge options include $20, $50, $75, $100, and so on, but what's a bit odd is the timing: the higher your contribution, the sooner your Breathometer is estimated to ship. At $100, for example, you can expect it by July. But if you pay only $20, you'll have to wait until at least January, 2014. That seems like a steep penalty for paying the lowest price.

Hopefully the gadget's creators will get sufficient funding to ramp up production sooner, and maybe cut those delivery times. I also hope the Breathometer will sell at that $20 price point once it does go into production.

Or maybe I should say "if." One thing is certain: It's a much more convenient and elegant solution than the "breathalyzer jacket" recently demoed at Mobile World Congress. In any case, do yourself and the people around you a favor: don't drink and drive. Ever.