Law enforcement conducts breathalyzer tests on people who drive erratically. You may be familiar with the term, but what is a breathalyzer, and how does it work? I looked at some facts about this test and how it's used.
Breathalyzers show that the alcohol level in your breath and mouth are related to the alcohol in your bloodstream. There are a few different types of breathalyzers, and they work in slightly different ways.
Drunk Driving Is A Public Safety Problem
Over 10,000 people were killed in 2016 by drunk drivers. Some drivers may pass roadside sobriety tests and still have over the legal limit for blood alcohol content. A portable breath analysis device called a breathalyzer helps law enforcement identify and detain drunk drivers with more accuracy.
Alcohol-impaired drivers report more instances of self-injury while driving. Drivers with alcohol problems cause crashes that result in more than $37 billion in automotive and property damage.
Towing charges, fines, bail bonds, loss of work, alcohol education courses, and lawyer fees add up for offending motorists, too.
Why Police Use Breathalyzer Tests
A breathalyzer test determines your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). A high BAC is defined as 0.10 or 0.08 by most states. Drivers with high BACs may be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI).
Breathalyzer tests are more efficient in the field than blood or urine tests which must be analyzed at the lab after the fact.
Basics Of Breathalyzer Testing
Alcohol on the breath is absorbed from other parts of the body, including the stomach, intestines, throat, and mouth. You don’t digest alcohol after it’s absorbed into your body, and it doesn’t change chemically in your blood.
Alcohol evaporates, but the amount in the lung's air sacs, or alveoli, matches the blood alcohol content. As you exhale, the breathalyzer detects the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream. The testing device records the level, and the police officer then determines whether or not to arrest you based on this reading.
You can determine blood alcohol content by measuring the ratio of blood alcohol to breath alcohol. For example, 2100 milliliters of air in the lung sacs has the same alcohol level as one milliliter of blood.
You can become mentally and physically impaired if your blood alcohol level measures 0.05, according to the American Medical Association. A BAC of 0.05 indicates there are 0.05 grams of alcohol for every 100 milliliters of blood.
Types Of Breath Alcohol Reading Devices
Law enforcement may use one of three different breath alcohol devices to determine BAC. The breathalyzer produces a color change using a chemical reaction, and it’s the most popular device used during potential DUI stops.
All breath analyzing devices have a mouthpiece, tube, and chamber. You blow into the pipe to supply a sample for analysis.
What is a breathalyzer? This device samples the suspect’s breath. It consists of two glass vials with a chemical mixture and photocells attached to a meter to interpret the color change caused by the chemical reaction.
The driver breathes into the device, and the sample goes through a sulfuric acid/silver nitrate/water/potassium dichromate mixture in one vial.
The sulfuric acid removes alcohol emitted by the breath and puts it in a liquid. The alcohol then produces a chromium sulfate potassium mixture. Silver nitrate encourages the reaction without affecting it.
The reddish-orange dichromate turns to green chromium when it reacts to alcohol. The amount of alcohol in the air determines the type of color change. The mixture and the photocell system create an electric current. The current makes the needle on the meter moves to indicate the alcohol level.
Intoxilyzers use infrared spectroscopy to look at the way molecules absorb IR light. Here’s how it works:
Alcosensor III Or IV
The Alcosensor III or IV uses a fuel cell to detect a chemical reaction to alcohol.
An acid-electrolyte material is placed between two platinum electrodes in a fuel cell. You exhale air, and it flows past one side of the cell. The platinum then oxidizes any alcohol from your breath to create protons, electrons and acetic acid.
Electrons travel to a wire and then protons mix with electrons to create a current. The current increases if lots of alcohol becomes oxidized. A microprocessor measures the BAC.
The results determined by breath-alcohol devices are used in court. Officers must be adequately trained in administering tests and interpreting results.
Car Breathalyzers For Convicted Drunk Drivers
Convicted drunk drivers may be required to use an ignition interlock device to ensure they are sober when driving their vehicle.
An ignition interlock connects to your car, and it contains a preset blood alcohol level based on your state laws. The amount is usually quite low, so you won’t be able to start your car if you've had any alcohol. You may not be able to start your vehicle if you've used alcohol-based mouthwash.
Your vehicle will shut down for up to 30 minutes if you test positive for alcohol. You can check again after the time limit has passed. The car will shut down for a more extended period if you test positive for alcohol on a second attempt.
Some states require that you take a rolling retest while you drive your car. The alarm and horn will function until you get out of traffic and turn off the engine. The system won't automatically shut off the car. You need to pull over to a safe place and retest before you can restart the vehicle.
Keychain Breathalyzers Prevent Problems
You can buy a car or portable breathalyzer for personal use from Amazon. Most of these portable devices use batteries and cost between $17 and $40. These keychain breathalyzers may help you determine if you’re above the legal BAC limit before you leave a bar or a party.
You shouldn’t depend on a reading from a keychain breathalyzer to determine your suitability to drive.
Keychain breathalyzers are designed differently than professional devices and are used more as a novelty than an accurate barometer of how much alcohol is in your system. There are many variables involved in using personal breathalyzers. They include:
People who can blow a lot of air into the device at one time will get a lower BAC due to the extra air diluting the alcohol. Personal breath reading devices have lower calibration standards than professional tools, so reading may vary widely depending on the brand you use.
People with diabetes or other medical conditions may receive high readings even if they’ve consumed little alcohol, and a heavy person will get a higher BAC reading than a slim person who has consumed the same amount of alcohol.
What’s The Difference Between
A Blood Alcohol Calculator And A Breathalyzer?
A blood alcohol calculator forecasts your BAC based on your age, height, weight, and number of alcoholic beverages you consume in a given time frame. Breathalyzers measure your blood alcohol content based on the amount of alcohol detected when you blow into the tube.
You’ll find blood alcohol calculators online, and while they may give you a ballpark range of your BAC, don’t use the results to determine whether it’s safe to drive. Use calculators and keychain breath reading devices as a guideline for your BAC, but don’t rely on the results to make decisions. Your life may depend on it.
Take precautions when you go to a bar or a party. Always go with friends and have a designated driver who refrains from drinking. Always have a back-up plan to take a ride-sharing service, taxi, or public transportation when you go out alone if you drink too much.
What is a breathalyzer? We hope you’ve learned all you need to know about breath analyzing devices for professional and personal use. Be responsible when you drink, and you can avoid ever having to take a breathalyzer test from law enforcement.
Here are some tips to avoid the effects of too much alcohol: