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Breathtester: What It Is, Types of Testers, & How It Works

12 March, 2024

A personal breathalyser showing the BAC results on a table

Breath testers, also known as breathalyzers, are devices used to measure the alcohol content in the breath. They have become a widely used tool in the fight against drink driving. There are different types of testers, and the common ones are semiconductor-based and fuel cell-based sensors. When a person exhales into the device, the sensors detect the alcohol molecules and provide a reading of their Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC).

Measuring the concentration of alcohol in a person is essential to determining their intoxication level. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to severe impairments, increasing the risks of accidents, especially when driving. Thus, many use a portable device to monitor their alcohol levels and prevent them from going over the legal limit. The following sections will provide an overview of what is a breath alcohol tester, the different types, and how they work.

What is a Breath Tester?

A breath tester is a portable digital device that measures the BAC level through the exhaled breath. It is commonly used during traffic stops to determine if a driver is under the influence of alcohol. This helps determine if a person is impaired and is over the legal limit.

The device includes various features, making breath testing efficient. Most breathalyzers have a digital display with a backlight screen to show the BAC results even in low-light conditions. Moreover, it has an alert level, which notifies users when their BAC level is over a certain limit. The auto power function turns off the device when not in use for a few seconds to save on power consumption.

Furthermore, advanced alcohol testers may have an alarm time function for individuals who want to test their breath regularly. When choosing a personal alcohol breathalyzer, it is vital to check the detection range. This refers to the range of BAC levels the device can accurately measure. Choosing a breathalyzer with a wide detection range is best for more reliable results.

Benefits of Using a Breathalyzer

  • A breathalyzer helps individuals monitor their BAC levels during and after consumption.
  • Testers prevent individuals from making the dangerous decision to drive while under the influence.
  • The device provides a reliable and quick measurement of alcohol levels in the body.
  • It helps individuals understand how alcohol affects their bodies and make informed choices.
  • Breathalyzers help law enforcement enforce drink driving laws and keep roads safer.
  • They are beneficial in maintaining workplace safety by testing employees for alcohol use.
  • The machine offers peace of mind for individuals who want to make sure they are not under the influence of alcohol before driving or engaging in activities.

A woman blowing to a breathalyser

Types of Breath Testers Available in the Market

Two main types of breath testers are available in the market. It is dependent on the kind of sensors they are using. The first type is the semiconductor breathalyzer. This device utilises a semiconductor oxide alcohol sensor that reacts with alcohol molecules in the breath to produce a measurable electrical signal. These testers are affordable and portable, making them a popular choice for personal use.

The second type is the fuel cell breathalyzer, which uses a fuel cell sensor to detect alcohol molecules in the breath. Fuel cell testers are more accurate and reliable because of their high specificity to ethanol. Hence, this makes them less prone to false positives. This type of device is ideal for law enforcement and professional use.

Another type of breathalyzer is the infrared spectrometer. It uses an infrared sensor to measure alcohol in the breath, providing the highest accuracy. However, this is bulky and expensive. Therefore, it is often used for evidential testing, such as in police stations. 

A Closer Look at BACtrack

BACtrack is a well-known brand that offers a wide range of breathalyzers for personal and professional use. The alcohol testers come in various models, each with unique features and capabilities. Notable devices of BACtrack are the Pro Series with police-grade accuracy, including the S80, Mobile Pro, Trace Pro, and Scout.

Another primary offering of BACtrack is the smartphone breathalyzer. These devices have Bluetooth capability to connect remotely to smartphones or devices. This feature allows users to track their BAC levels through an app. Additionally, BACtrack has the ZeroLine technology that can quickly estimate when the BAC will return to zero.

A man and woman drinking alcohol

Understanding How Breath Testers Work

Breath testers rely on the principle of alcohol being present in exhaled breath after alcohol consumption. The device measures the amount of alcohol in the breath sample through the sensors. Moreover, the concentration of alcohol in the breath is proportional to the alcohol in the blood. When the sensors come in contact with alcohol molecules, it undergoes an oxidation process.

The chemical reaction process produces small electrical signals. Subsequently, the device converts the number or strength of this signal into a numerical value. Then, it displays the BAC reading on the LCD screen for the user to see. In the case of smartphone breathalyzers, it delivers the BAC results directly on the app.

To operate a breathalyzer, turn on the device and wait for the signal to blow. Once the countdown timer reaches zero, blow steadily into the mouthpiece for a few seconds or until the beeping sound stops. Afterwards, the tester analyses the breath sample and provides a BAC reading within seconds.

Factors that Can Affect Breathalyzer Readings

While breathalyzers are beneficial for measuring alcohol levels, they are not foolproof. Various factors can affect the accuracy of the alcohol test. Some common elements include mouth alcohol, medications, and certain foods that can interfere with the test. Mouth alcohol may be due to not waiting at least 15 minutes after eating or drinking.

Additionally, environmental factors such as extreme temperature or humidity can impact the performance of the alcohol screening device. Lastly, missing the timing of the device’s recalibration may lead to inaccurate readings. Following the proper guidelines for breathalyzer usage is vital to ensure reliable results.

Conclusion

In conclusion, breath testers are essential tools for measuring alcohol levels in the body. They are portable devices that are easy to use and provide quick results. Therefore, they are convenient and efficient in monitoring the BAC to prevent individuals from driving over the legal limit. Furthermore, there are different types of testers to choose from that offer varying levels of accuracy. The most common types are semiconductors and fuel cell-based sensors.

Breathalyzers work by detecting alcohol vapour in the breath sample and measuring the concentration of alcohol to provide a BAC reading. However, being aware of the factors that affect the device is crucial to minimise inaccurate results. Lastly, brands like BACtrack offer a wide range of devices for personal and professional use, including smartphone-capable breathalyzers with advanced functionalities. It is essential to use these devices properly to make the most informed decisions.

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