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Breathalyzer Test: Kinds, Sensors, and Implications

25 September, 2022

breathalyzer-test

Breath testing is a common method for tracing recent alcohol consumption. Typically, it involves using breath testing devices such as breathalyzers. The modern breathalyzer is a well-known portable instrument for testing breath alcohol levels. A breathalyzer test utilises the alcohol in the exhaled breath samples to compute the amount of alcohol in the system. The result is commonly referred to as Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level. To avoid a DUI conviction, the BAC level must be less than the legal limit. In most Australian states or territories, the general limit is 0.05%.

When purchasing a breathalyzer, individuals must consider various factors. This is because the information from breathalyzers can be crucial for avoiding drink driving charges, which can have severe consequences. Moreover, using testing devices can enable individuals to monitor and limit their alcohol consumption, which is helpful for preventing accidents due to intoxication. Hence, breath testing using these devices has become widely used. After all, it is a non-invasive and convenient method of measuring the BAC. This article will present information about the kinds of breath device tests, their sensors, and the implications of a positive result.

The Two Kinds of Breathalyzer Tests

A passive alcohol breathalyzer test collects a breath sample once a person breathes into the breathalyzer from a small distance. Most importantly, there should be no close communication between their mouth and the device for hygiene purposes. The device does not provide a BAC reading in passive mode. It simply verifies whether the alcohol is present or not. Hence, they will only display a positive or negative result.

A standard mode breath test is also known as the active mode. It enables the user to provide a breath test through an authorised sanitary mouthpiece. A quality breathalyzer in “Standard mode” produces a reliable BAC reading based on an examination of the provided deep lung air. Standard tests are less prone to natural influence and operator mistakes by the person doing the test. If accuracy is critical, then seeing a numerical BAC result is helpful.

The active breath analyzer is more typical for a personal breath test. Nevertheless, there are numerous types of alcohol testers, each with unique and special features and varied prices. These breath-testing devices are used by several law enforcement agencies and also by consumers for personal use.

A person holding a BACtrack breathalyser

Breathalyzer Sensors Used for Breathalyzer Tests

Semiconductor sensors are commonly used for personal breathalyzer tests. The devices with these sensors often offer a reasonable price and are sensibly consistent in test findings. These breathalyzers are a good, low-cost alternative to professional devices, but they should ideally only be used for personal tests. This sensor uses a tin oxide compound that creates chemical reactions upon contact with ethanol molecules in the mouth. Then, it produces electrical currents based on the resistance to measure the BAC level. It is cheaper and smaller in size than other sensors. This makes it ideal for the average consumer to prioritise detection over precisely measuring alcohol in the breath.

Breathalyzers with fuel cell sensors are another portable hand-held device for breath testing. In comparison to semiconductor sensors,  tests using fuel cell breathalyzers give a more exact and reliable BAC result. The accuracy range is typically +/-0.005%. By stimulating a chemical reaction known as oxidation, a fuel cell can detect the amount in a body. An electrical current is created when the breath sample is oxidized. The more alcohol present, the higher the voltage generated by the fuel cell, resulting in a higher measurement.

A spectrophotometer breathalyzer is another type of alcohol breath test that  offers accurate and exact findings when screening breath samples for blood alcohol content. The spectrophotometer breathalyzer employs infrared light to identify compounds. The concentration of ethanol in a sample is isolated and analyzed, allowing a person’s alcohol level to be calculated. While a fuel cell breathalyzer can be utilized on the roads, a spectrophotometer is a huge device that police use in their office desk.

A gavel on a soundblock in front of a book and a scale

Implications of a Positive Breathalyzer Test Result

A positive breathalyzer test result can be a serious matter, depending on the circumstances. When using a breathalyzer for personal reasons, a positive or high BAC reading is indicative that the person should refrain from further alcohol intake. This can be crucial, especially if the individual needs to drive afterwards. It is important that they ensure they are fully sober before attempting to do so. In addition, parents may also use this to check if their children have consumed alcohol without them knowing.

Law enforcement officers typically use breathalyzers during roadside tests to identify those breaking the legal limits. For most drivers, the limit is 0.05% BAC. However, some must have a 0.00% BAC. This generally applies to new drivers, provisional or probationary drivers, and many others. Nevertheless, the limit may vary depending on the state, so checking beforehand is important. Going beyond the limit may result in a DUI charge. They may face penalties, such as fines, licence suspensions, vehicle impoundment, or imprisonment.

Lastly, a positive result in the workplace can be indicative that the worker has violated the alcohol and drug use policy of their company. This is typical for high-risk industries, especially for those in safety-sensitive positions. Companies may implement disciplinary measures, such as suspensions, demotions, or termination.

Conclusion

A breathalyzer test is an important method for detecting recent alcohol consumption. There are two kinds that people may use. Namely, they are the passive and active modes. The passive mode is ideal for simply identifying alcohol without measurement. Meanwhile, those who need an exact measurement should use the active mode. Furthermore, three types of sensors can be found in breathalyzers. These are the semiconductor, fuel cell, and infrared spectrophotometer.

There are many implications in receiving a positive test result. For personal use, it can indicate that the user should stop consuming alcohol. Meanwhile, police officers may use this to identify those breaking relevant Australian alcohol laws. Lastly, workplaces can use this to trace individuals who are violating company policy by consuming alcohol in the workplace. Those who are interested in using BACtrack breathalyzers for personal or workplace use may check the models available at Breathalysers Australia.

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