Not Just Law Enforcement Is Using Breathalyzers - By: Christine Harrell

A breath alcohol analyzer, also known as a breathalyzer, is a device used to measure the concentration of alcohol in an expired breath sample. It has been proven that the concentration of alcohol in the breath is directly proportional to the concentration of that in the blood. Breathalyzers have been used by law enforcement since the 1930's, but the relationship between breath alcohol content and blood alcohol content has been known since the late 1800's.

The technology of this apparatus has become much more sophisticated over the years. Most devices today use one of two technologies; infrared spectroscopy or methods based on electrochemical fuel cell analysis. The latter is typically used in the hand held devices by police officers in the field. It is important to note that breathalyzers do not actually measure the concentration of alcohol in the blood, which can only be done by a blood test. Research suggests that breathalyzer results can vary 15% or more from actual blood alcohol concentration. However, the devices can estimate the blood alcohol content and that, in conjunction with a field sobriety test can usually justify a police officer's decision to further process the suspect. Laws regarding this vary from state to state.

The use of breathalyzers is no longer limited to law enforcement. Individuals can buy a breathalyzer for personal use. These devices can easily be found on the Internet for consumer purchase. They are referred to as a digital breathalyzer or digital alcohol detector. With one of these devices, an individual is able to know whether or not they would pass a field breathalyzer test if they were pulled over. The advantage is that this knowledge may decrease the incidence of drunk driving. A disadvantage is that, although regulated by the FDA, they are not always accurate.

Breathalyzers may also be installed on a car's ignition. These are almost always court ordered. This device must be installed by a certified technician and requires the driver to exhale into it. If the resulting concentration exceeds a preprogrammed level, the car will not start. Further, the data from the device is usually transmitted to the court periodically.

Whether used by law enforcement, the courts or individuals, breathalyzers serve to halt drunk driving and that saves lives. As the technology improves and these devices become more mainstream, it enables individuals to drink more responsibly and make better choices when it comes to driving.

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