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Breathalyzers are instruments that are utilized in a number of professions to determine the amount of blood alcohol content by analyzing a breath sample obtained from an individual. The most common application of a breathalyzer is in the profession of law enforcement, with police officers often employing the device to deal with incidences of drunk driving.
While the term breathalyzer actually refers to a particular make and model of blood alcohol content analyzing equipment, the word has come to be considered a common name for any devices that perform this type of function. Smith and Wesson produced the first breathalyzer, but today there are dozens of different models on the market. In all cases, any form of the breathalyzer must meet a stringent set of standards, since the results of the analysis must be accurate within in order to be acceptable in a court of law.
The breathalyzer works on the principle of estimating the blood alcohol content of an individual based on a sample of breath that is obtained from the suspect. When a police officer pulls over a driver on the suspicion that the individual may be intoxicated, it is not uncommon for the officer to ask the driver to take what is known as a field sobriety test. Essentially, this involves using a hand held breathalyzer.
The driver exhales into the device, which then uses electrochemical fuel cell technology to identify the elements found in the sample. Some devices also make use of what is known as infrared spectrophotometer technology, which also helps to identify the presence and percentage content of alcohol in the sample. A reading that if over the legal limit will result in the driver being charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (or DUI). In some jurisdictions, this is also known as driving while intoxicated (DWI).
There are also breathalyzer models that are available to the general public. Many businesses that serve alcohol keep a breathalyzer on hand to test patrons that appear to be too intoxicated to drive. Loved ones of recovering alcoholics may also keep a unit handy to periodically test the friend or relative as a means of helping the individual stay sober. However, it should be noted that many of these smaller devices do not have the same level of accuracy found with the breathalyzer models used by law enforcement.