New gun safe requires Breathalyzer test for access

(AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

Would you buy a gun safe that requires you to blow into a Breathalyzer before it will open? A University of Michigan student is hoping that gun owners will say “yes” to that question by rolling out the Sober Vault; a keypad-equipped gun safe with a Breathalyzer attached.


John Kotarski says he came up with the idea as part of an entrepreneurship course he took at the university, and it sounds like his intentions are good, even if the safe has some inherent drawbacks that are likely to turn off many gun owners.

The inspiration for it came after he said he saw a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention article claiming gun fatalities involving firearms users under the influence were similar to drunken driving fatalities.

“I also know that intimate partner violence is a big problem with alcohol-induced firearm violence, as well as suicides using firearms under the influence,” he said. “Those were two big pushes that made me think about this idea.”

A 2016 study in the National Library of Medicine states that more than one-third of firearm violence incidents involve a shooter who has “acutely consumed alcohol” and more than one-fourth had “heavily consumed alcohol” prior to their death.

In its current form, the Sober Vault safe runs on a microcontroller that takes input from an air quality sensor geared toward sensing alcohol content, Kotarski said. A motor latches the safe open and shut, as long as the user also remembers the safe’s password on a keypad.

Users breathe into a sensor on the vault. If they’ve had too much alcohol, LED lights flash red to indicate the safe is locked. If the user is sober, the lights flash yellow to indicate the keypad password may be entered. If the password is correct, the lights flash green and the safe opens.

There is no specific blood alcohol content level associated with the safe locks currently, as Kotarski calibrated the sensors based on the breath of sober people and inebriated ones, he said. The team is currently working on an override for the safe in case of an emergency, he said.


I can appreciate Kotarski’s intentions here, but I don’t know that there’s a huge market for something like this. When you need access to a secured firearm in order to protect your life or your loved ones time is of the essence, and stopping to blow into a tube before you can enter the passcode on your safe is an extraneous step that I certainly wouldn’t want to have to take before I could respond to an armed intruder.

I guess that’s where the emergency override kicks in, but if inebriated individuals can still access the safe by using the override, doesn’t that defeat the Sober Vault’s entire purpose?

Much like “smart guns”, the Sober Vault seems to be an idea that sounds good in theory but has some fundamental drawbacks in reality. If Kotarski wants to bring Sober Vault to market I wouldn’t be surprised if he could attract some investors. I just wouldn’t count on a lot of customers.

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