Alcohol Tester: Overview, How It Works, And Reliability
21 August, 2023
Alcohol testers are portable devices that measure the alcohol concentration levels of a person. There are various testing kits available. The most common one is a breathalyser. The device works by capturing a breath sample and analysing it through its sensors. It undergoes a chemical reaction process and gives an estimate of the alcohol content. Moreover, advanced sensor technology in breathalysers is highly accurate, ensuring reliability in alcohol breath tests.
Testing for alcohol has become a common practice in many settings. It is conducted by police officers in roadside screening to check the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of drivers. This is to ensure that individuals are not impaired while driving, which may lead to accidents. Portable devices also enable consumers to check their BAC before driving. This article will give an overview of what breathalysers are, how they work, and their reliability.
What Is An Alcohol Tester?
An alcohol tester, also known as a breathalyser, is a device used to measure the concentration of alcohol in the body. It works by analysing the alcohol vapour in the breath, which is directly related to the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. It is a portable and handheld device, making it convenient for individuals to check their BAC everywhere.
A breathalyser consists of a mouthpiece through which the person blows and a sensor that examines the breath sample. Additionally, most devices have an LCD display to show the BAC reading. It provides the results of alcohol level in numerical value, usually in a range of 0.00 to 0.40 grams per litre of blood or a percentage.
The BAC indicates the degree of intoxication of a person. The higher the BAC level, the more severe the impairment. It gives a reliable assessment for an individual to decide if they are fit to drive. The device gives an estimation of their alcohol content versus the legal alcohol limit for driving. If their BAC exceeds the legal limit (0.05% in Australia), they are subject to legal charges.
Different Types Available
- Semiconductor breathalyser: a unit consisting of a tin oxide device that measures the reactivity of alcohol compounds in the breath. It is relatively inexpensive compared to other types.
- Fuel cell breathalyser: utilises two platinum electrodes and an electrolyte solution. It gives higher accuracy due to their specificity to ethyl alcohol.
- Spectrophotometer breathalyser: this device contains infrared light technology to measure the amount of alcohol. It is bulkier and the most expensive. It is used in police stations to give evidential readings to persons suspected of drink driving.
- Immunoassay tests: testing kits that use urine or saliva samples for analysis.
How Does An Alcohol Tester Work?
A breath alcohol tester uses sensor technology to detect and measure a person’s blood alcohol concentration. When a person exhales into the device, the breath sample passes through a chamber. During this process, an enzyme oxidises alcohol in the breath. It breaks down alcohol molecules, creating an electrical charge and converts it into a BAC value.
In a fuel cell breathalyser, the alcohol in the breath reacts with a catalyst and produces a current. The stronger the electrical current, the higher the concentration of alcohol. On the other hand, in semiconductor sensors, the alcohol molecules interact with a metal oxide, causing a change in the electrical resistance. This change is converted into a digital reading.
To use a breathalyser, the person blows into the mouthpiece for five seconds or longer. The device analyses the sample and displays the BAC within 10 to 15 seconds. It gives the fastest turnaround time among other alcohol screening procedures. This enables individuals to get real-time updates on their blood alcohol levels.
Understanding the BAC
The Blood Alcohol Content or BAC is the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream of a person. It is the proportion of alcohol to total blood volume. When a person consumes alcohol, small portions enter the bloodstream. As BAC increases, so does the impairment of cognitive and physical abilities, leading to a higher risk of accidents.
Moreover, many factors influence the BAC, including the amount and rate of alcohol consumption, body weight, metabolism, and presence of food in the stomach. Metabolism varies among individuals. On average, it takes one hour for the body to eliminate one standard drink of alcohol.
Are Alcohol Testers Reliable?
Alcohol testers are generally reliable for measuring blood alcohol concentration levels. Breath alcohol devices provide a quick and convenient way to determine the degree of intoxication of a person. However, there are several factors that may affect their accuracy. The most common ones include improper use of the device, environmental conditions, and calibration.
Using a breathalyser correctly is important to get an accurate BAC reading. It requires the user to follow instructions, use a clean mouthpiece, and blow for five seconds or longer. Additionally, it is vital to wait 15 to 20 minutes after eating, drinking, or smoking before taking a breath test. This guide is to ensure there is no residual alcohol left in the mouth.
Furthermore, avoid using alcohol-containing products, such as mouthwash and breath sprays. This may produce false readings, especially for personal breathalysers with semiconductor sensors. Finally, ensure that alcohol breathalysers undergo periodic recalibration. This process is vital for maintaining the accuracy of the device, whether using fuel cells or semiconductor sensors. Overall, these devices can help identify drivers who are over the legal limit.
Legal Limit Considerations
The legal alcohol limit for driving varies from country to country. In Australia, the general BAC limit is 0.05%. Individuals exceeding the limit are subject to drink driving penalties, including fines, license suspension, and imprisonment. Therefore, it is vital to check the BAC before driving to prevent legal consequences.
When it comes to safety, the best advice is to avoid driving after drinking. This is because the absorption of alcohol continues for several minutes to an hour, causing the BAC to increase after the last drink. It is advisable to check if the level of alcohol in the blood has started to decline.
Alcohol testers are reliable devices for determining the BAC of a person. They provide quick and reliable results, making it convenient to check if the level of alcohol in the blood is below the legal limit. There are various types of alcohol breathalysers, and the common ones use either fuel cell sensors or semiconductor sensors. They work by analysing the breath sample through a chemical reaction process to measure the amounts of alcohol.
However, it is important to follow instructions on the proper use of the alcohol meter to get precise results. It includes waiting 15 to 20 minutes after eating or drinking. Also, considering the factors that influence the BAC helps in making responsible decisions. Additionally, maintain timely recalibration to ensure accuracy. For reliable testing, use a professional alcohol tester with fuel cell technology. They are specific to ethyl alcohol, minimising the likelihood of false readings.