Who Could Use A Digital Breathalyzer? - By: Christine Harrell

A breath alcohol analyzer is a device that is used to estimate the concentration of alcohol in the blood by analyzing the amount of ethanol present in a sample of breath. The device, commonly called a breathalyzer, provides a non-invasive way to discover the level of intoxication at the time of the testing. These tools are typically used by law enforcement officials in public intoxication and driving under the influence arrests and by employers to determine whether their employees are intoxicated on the job.

A breath alcohol analyzer must be approved by a federal agency before it is allowed to be sold by the manufacturer. Devices that are sold to law enforcement officials must first be approved by the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The machines that are sold for private usage must be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Test results obtained from machines sold for private usage are not admissible in court as evidence for a trial; the results must have come from a machine approved for law enforcement usage.

There are two different styles of breath alcohol analyzer tools that are commonly used across the nation today. Desktop style devices use electrochemical fuel cell technology or infrared spectrophotometer technology to detect the level of alcohol present in the breath. Handheld analyzers are used in the field for preliminary alcohol screening, using electrochemical platinum fuel cell analysis to make the determination of whether further testing is needed.

In law enforcement, testing with a breath alcohol analyzer typically occurs at a police station after the person has been arrested by a field officer. An individual that is suspected of being intoxicated is held under close observation for 15 to 20 minutes prior to testing to ensure that they have not done anything that could affect the accuracy of the test. The individual is then instructed to blow into a tube attached to the breathalyzer to provide a breath sample for analysis.

The calibration of an alcohol breathalyzer is very important for getting an accurate reading. There are a number of different things that can affect the calibration of one of these devices, but each of these factors can be eliminated or adjusted to allow the machine to make the correct calculations. The operators of these tools are trained in the proper use of these items to reduce the risk of errors through incorrect usage and the sensors are replaced every six months to one year to prevent the degradation of the sensor from affecting the test.

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