B.C.'s strict impaired-driving law has resulted in intoxicating sales growth for online breath-analysis vendors.
Sales of both low-cost and high-end machines sped up as soon as the law came into effect on Sept. 20. "The response is overwhelming for me," said Pierre Fournier, who sells units ranging from $5 to $395 on his website AlcoSafeTest.ca. He has sold more than 13,000 of the lowest-cost tests since Sept. 20, he said.
For $5, the single-use tests claim to tell drivers whether they've crossed the .05 blood alcohol content line. The most expensive model he sells uses fuel cell technology – similar to what police use, Mr. Fournier said. (This model was sensitive enough to register alcohol after the consumption of two vodka-soaked olives in The Globe's experiment.)
Mr. Fournier rushed to start up a breath-analysis business after he found out about the made-in-Quebec products from a friend in August. He put together a website to sell them in only five days.
The $5 test does not provide precise readings. But the lack of accuracy hasn't stopped people from using the tests in Quebec. Provincial liquor stores there put the product through two years of tests before they sold it, he said.
"They've been on the market there for eight years," Mr. Fournier said. "I don't know why they hadn't made it to the Rockies yet."
Web traffic from B.C. to BreathalyzerCanada.com increased in October, said website operator Tim Salter.
In the month before the law went into effect, Mr. Salter sold 85 Breathalyzers to customers in B.C. The next month, he sold 390.
To take advantage of the booming business from the West Coast, Mr. Salter will offer free shipping until the end of the year.
Mid-range models that retail between $100 and $200 are the website's biggest sellers, he said. "People are willing to pay for it, especially when the reason they're buying it is to stay safe on the roads."
The least expensive model on Mr. Salter's website costs $67. He said he prefers not to sell low-cost Breathalyzers because the "novelty" tests are not reliable.
Dubbed the "perfect gift for the holiday season" on Mr. Fournier's website, the low-cost units are perfect for company holiday parties. Private liquor stores across the province are his biggest customers.
Many drivers are confused about how many drinks it takes to push them over the limit, Mr. Fournier said. Breathalyzer tests give them the chance to check if they should get behind the wheel. "The objective here is to give drivers something to say, 'I shouldn't take the road. I've had one too many.' "
Darby's liquor store at West 4th and MacDonald sells the low-cost tests.
"We've only had them for a week," said store manager Tristan Clarke. "People like them, but they just say if you're over or under."
Mr. Clarke was unsure if road safety had anything to do with people purchasing the tests. "I question that people want to buy them to play alcohol games," he said.
B.C.'s tough laws boosted sales at the private liquor store, but have hurt business at the pub next door, Mr. Clarke said.
"You can only have one beer now," he said.