3 Types of Breathalyzers

Florida law enforcement authorities invest large amounts of time and money in detecting and prosecuting drivers who are operating while under the influence of alcohol or other chemical substances. The risk of injury and death to other innocent drivers, passengers, and pedestrians is well known because of the many alcohol-related driving tragedies.  


The investment in efforts to detect drunk drivers has led to the development of advanced technology for use in breathalyzer devices. Today, there are several new types of breathalyzers available for use by police, some more reliable than others.  


Any driver who has been charged with DUI in Hillsborough or Pinellas County should understand exactly how the breathalyzers work, what problems exist, and how an experienced DUI defense lawyer can give you your best chance of avoiding a permanent record for a DUI conviction.  


Breathalyzers and Alcohol In Your Blood and Breath 


The effect of alcohol on the human brain is virtually immediate and increasingly affects a person’s ability to function normally as the level of alcohol they ingest rises. But the law in Florida says there are two methods by which a driver can be convicted of DUI: 


  • A person is guilty of DUI when they are driving or in actual physical possession of a motor vehicle 


  1. when under the influence of alcohol or another chemical or controlled substance to the extent that their normal faculties are impaired, or 
  2. when they have a blood or breath alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher.  


Although any alcohol affects your brain functions, authorities have accepted the proposition that a driver is unable to operate an automobile safely if their BAC is 0.08. The science behind that conclusion is based on testing human performance at various BAC levels. At lower levels, alcohol’s effects are deemed not sufficiently debilitating to constitute a crime for a Florida adult. 


Processing Alcohol in Your Body  


When you drink an alcoholic beverage, the alcohol is absorbed through the tissue in your mouth, your throat, and your digestive system. Your body can only process a limited amount of alcohol at a time, so it takes a while to fully break it down. In the meantime, it circulates through your bloodstream, including through the tissue in your lungs. When the alcohol contacts air inside your lungs and evaporates, it can be expelled through your breath. That’s what gets measured by the various breathalyzer devices currently in use by police. 


Breathalyzer # 1: Intoxilyzer 8000 


The standard breathalyzer used by law enforcement across Florida is called the Intoxilyzer 8000. This is the unit located in police stations and the one most DUI prosecutions use as evidence against the defendant. 


The Intoxilyzer uses infrared spectrometry (IR) alcohol detection technology. In short, the machine uses a gas that changes color when exposed to alcohol. If the instrument is properly calibrated, the changing color of the gas will correspond to the level of alcohol in the breath sample the suspect blows into it. This is the oldest technology with many of the machines requiring frequent repairs and regular recalibration. 


Breathalyzer # 2: Fuel Cell Breathalyzer — Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) 


A second commonly used and more portable breathalyzer is frequently referred to as a PBT, a “preliminary breath test.” This device operates by using a fuel cell with an electrical current. A platinum-coated wafer oxidizes the alcohol present in the breath sample which creates an electrical charge that runs between two electrodes. The unit measures the electrical current created by the alcohol oxidizing and calculates the corresponding BAC reading. It is more accurate in instances with higher levels of alcohol. 


In Florida, the PBT’s results are not generally admissible in court during a DUI prosecution, but they are used in administrative hearings in which the driver’s license is being suspended or revoked.  


Breathalyzer # 3. Semiconductor Oxide Sensor Breathalyzer 


The third type of breathalyzer is a semiconductor breathalyzer which is a newer addition to the array of devices available for testing blood/breath alcohol content. This type of breathalyzer measures the sensor resistance change when a heated film in the unit oxidizes the alcohol in the breath sample. These are easily affordable, portable units that anyone can buy. The problem is that they are the least accurate of the breathalyzer types because they can react to more than alcohol. They can produce false readings when used by people with diabetes or those who follow a low-carb diet. 


Police Do Not Need Breathalyzer Tests to Get DUI Convictions 


Remember that police do not need to have a driver’s breathalyzer results to bring DUI charges to court. Under the law (see above), having a BAC reading over 0.08 is only one avenue prosecutors can use to seek DUI convictions. The law also provides that convictions can be upheld against anyone who drives while affected by alcohol or another chemical or controlled substance to the extent that “their normal faculties are affected.” 


Alcohol affects different people in different ways. Some people may begin to show signs of intoxication with only two or three drinks while others seem normal after five or six drinks. Since no breathalyzer is necessary to prosecute someone, a police officer’s reported observations of a driver’s behavior and performance of field sobriety tests alone can support a conviction.  


Read More > What is Probable Cause for a DUI in Florida? 



Experienced DUI Defense Lawyers Know About the Breathalyzer Technology 


Only active DUI defense lawyers are skilled and educated about the detailed functions of various breathalyzer machines, their rate of error, and how to discredit their results. And only those with experience cross-examining police officers about how they administered field sobriety tests know which errors the police make most often and how to use them to prevent breathalyzer results from being admitted into evidence. 


If you or your family member is facing DUI or Chemical Test Refusal charges in the Tampa – St. Petersburg area, contact Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law. With decades of DUI litigation experience, both prosecuting and defending DUI charges, Stechschulte Nell lawyers have the background and expertise to protect your legal rights in alcohol or drug-related driving cases. 


We are ready to review your case. Call us at 813-280-1244 today.  


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