The Way A Breath Alcohol Analyzer Works
- By: Christine Harrell
Over the course of the last three decades, the breathalyzer and similar devices that measure traces of alcohol on a person's breath have gone from an obscure novelty to a crucial piece of a law enforcement officer's toolkit. Breathalyzers are routinely used to assess a driver's level of alcohol intoxication during routine traffic stops when an officer suspects that a driver may be over his or her legal limit. At the same time, there are now far simpler models of the breath analyzer that drivers can use on their own when they are unsure whether they have had too much alcohol to legally operate a vehicle. Here is a detailed look at the most common types of breathalyzers, as well as the most common error that users make with breathalyzers.
One of the most common misconceptions about law enforcement grade breathalyzers is that they provide a direct measurement of an individual's blood alcohol content, or BAC. Instead, a breathalyzer measures the amount of alcohol vapor on a person's breath and uses this data to estimate a person's BAC. When an individual exhales into a breathalyzer, any alcohol vapors that are present on his breath are converted by the device into a chemical compound called anetic acid. The breathalyzer then measures the anetic acid that has been extracted with a mild electrical charge and provides the law enforcement officer with an accurate estimate of the individual's BAC.
A consumer grade breath alcohol analyzer is considerably less expensive and a little bit less reliable than law enforcement grade devices. In the United States, all consumer grade breath analyzers are required to be cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to ensure that the public can rely upon their devices for a reasonably accurate estimation of their BAC before they operate a motor vehicle. Most of these analyzers are hand-held devices that use a basic semiconductor to sense the presence of intoxicants on a user's breath in order to calculate his BAC. Although the results of consumer grade breath analyzers cannot be used as evidence in the court of law, they are generally considered to be a reliable and accurate method for private citizens to determine their current BAC.
Regardless of what type of analyzer a person chooses to use, it is important to remember that the device will include any remaining vapors that are present in a person's mouth just after they have had a drink. As a result, using a breathalyzer on a person who has recently consumed one or two alcoholic beverages will result in a higher than average reading. Simply wait for approximately 15 minutes after a person's last drink in order to obtain a more accurate test.
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