Alcohol is not digested upon absorption, nor chemically changed in the bloodstream. As the blood goes through the lungs, some of the alcohol moves across the membranes of the lung's air sacs (alveoli) into the air, because alcohol will evaporate from a solution -- that is, it is volatile. The concentration of the alcohol in the alveolar air is related to the concentration of the alcohol in the blood. As the alcohol in the alveolar air is exhaled, it can be detected by the breath alcohol testing device. Instead of having to draw a driver's blood to test his alcohol level, an officer can test the driver's breath on the spot and instantly know if there is a reason to arrest the driver.
Because the alcohol concentration in the breath is related to that in the blood, you can figure the BAC by measuring alcohol on the breath. The ratio of breath alcohol to blood alcohol is 2,100:1. This means that 2,100 milliliters (ml) of alveolar air will contain the same amount of alcohol as 1 ml of blood.
For many years, the legal standard for drunkenness across the United States was 0.10, but many states have now adopted the 0.08 standard. The federal government has pushed states to lower the legal limit. The American Medical Association says that a person can become impaired when the blood alcohol level hits 0.05. If a person's BAC measures 0.08, it means that there are 0.08 grams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.
There are several different devices used for measuring BAC.