How Breathalyzers Work

Why Test?

­Alcohol intoxication is legally defined by the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level. However, taking a blood sample in the field for later analysis in the laboratory is not practical or efficient for detaining drivers suspected of driving while impaired (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI). Urine tests for alcohol proved to be just as impractical in the field as blood sampling. What was needed was a way to measure something related to BAC without invading a suspect's body.

In the 1940s, breath alcohol testing devices were first developed for use by police. In 1954, Dr. Robert Borkenstein of the Indiana State Police invented the Breathalyzer, one type of breath alcohol testing device used by law enforcement agencies today.

Let's take a look at what these tests are based on.