How to properly use a breathalyzer?

Alcohol is one of the leading causes of death while driving : every year, on French roads, it is involved in nearly 30% of fatal accidents. This is the reason why the legislation is so strict: it is forbidden to drive with a blood alcohol level higher than 0.5 g/l (0.2 g/l in the event of a probationary permit). To measure your blood alcohol level and drive safely, there are portable devices: breathalyzers.

What is a breathalyzer?

The breathalyzer is a screening tool that can be used by law enforcement, but also by individuals. It is mainly used during roadside checks, to quickly carry out blood alcohol tests. Two types of breathalyzers are available. They must be approved and certified NF :

  • Chemical breathalyzers (or balloons), for single use. They only indicate the presence of alcohol in the exhaled air: they do not give a precise measurement, and their color changes when the legal alcohol level is exceeded. Count an average of €1.50 for each piece and beware of the expiry date: on average, they are no longer usable after one to two years.
  • electronic breathalyzers, reusable, but also more expensive: count more than a hundred euros per piece. The principle: blow into a mouthpiece. The measurement of alcohol in the exhaled air is made by an electrochemical sensor, then the digital display gives a result in milligrams of alcohol per liter of exhaled air.

Note: chemical or electronic breathalyzers only give a simple estimate which has no legal value. In the event of a positive control by the police, more precise additional measurements must be carried out using a breathalyzer.

What is the difference between a breathalyzer and a breathalyzer?

The breathalyzer is the measuring instrument used by law enforcement to more accurately measure the blood alcohol level and characterize the offence. It is used in second intention, after a positive alcohol test, and its results have legal value before the courts. However, this device is much bulkier, and difficult to transport: it is generally necessary to go to the police or gendarmerie station to submit to it. In some cases (physical inability to breathe, bodily injury, etc.), it is not a breathalyzer, but a blood test, which makes it possible to precisely determine a driver’s blood alcohol level.

What is an alcohol interlock?

As the name suggests, the alcohol ignition interlock (EAD) prevents a vehicle from starting if its driver has a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. The device is directly connected to the vehicle’s power supply circuit which allows the engine to be started. It can be optional or compulsory (in buses and collective coaches for example, but also at the request of a prefect, a judge, or a medical team, in the context of drunk driving or an ongoing addiction).

In any case, its installation must be done by an approved installer. Concretely, before hitting the road, the driver must blow into the breathalyzer and the engine starts only if the alcohol limit is respected. Five to thirty minutes after his departure (timing random), it will have to breath again. He then has 20 minutes to stop and prove his “good faith”. If the breathalyzer proves positive, the EAD system will prevent the engine from starting and the driver will not be able to take the wheel again.

Where to buy a breathalyzer?

To promote self-monitoring, breathalyzers are available:

  • in large areas,
  • in pharmacies and parapharmacies,
  • in most press outlets,
  • in garages and service stations.

Since November 2011, drinking establishments authorized to distribute alcohol between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. (nightclubs, bars, etc.) have also been required to make certified screening devices available to their customers ( source 1).

Why use a breathalyzer? Is it mandatory?

Before hitting the road, of course. The most accurate blood alcohol measurement is obtained 30 minutes after drinking, the time that the alcohol has passed through the body and that the measurement of the breathalyzer, which is carried out in the exhaled air, reflects the blood level. It is always better to leave some in your car, so as not to be caught off guard!

Beyond the risk of a fine, withdrawal of points, or even license withholding, driving drunk is a matter of life or death: driving under the influence of alcohol increases the risk of an accident by 8.5. For good reason, the effects of alcohol on driving are numerous and devastating: feeling of omnipotence, lengthening of reaction time, narrowing of the field of vision, reduction of reflexes, increased sensitivity to glare… For all these reasons, an alcohol test is systematically carried out:

  • in a traffic accident causing bodily injury
  • and during a traffic violation, even if it is not an obvious state of drunkenness.

As to whether it is mandatory to have a breathalyzer in your car… The decree published in the Official Journal on Thursday, March 1, 2012 requires drivers to be in possession of a chemical or electronic breathalyzer in their vehicle, but users are not subject to any sanction if they do not present this device during a check. The remission of a fine of 11 euros, initially provided for in the event of an infringement, was finally abandoned.

Who can use a breathalyzer?

Anyone can – and should – submit to a breathalyzer when required by law enforcement.

With the exception of a specific medical contraindication (on a case-by-case basis), the refusal to submit to alcohol testing constitutes a criminal offense and is punishable by a fine of up to €4,500, together with a prison term of 2 years.

In the case of a chemical breathalyzer, nothing could be simpler: just blow once into the mouthpiece provided for this purpose, so that the air exhaled by your lungs causes the pocket to inflate (about one liter of air) . Then connect the small tube containing the chemical reagent (orange chromium salt) to the mouthpiece, then press the balloon to deflate it. If the color of the reagent remains the same, your blood alcohol level is negative, you can drive. On the other hand, if the reagent turns green and exceeds the line indicating the standard, you are in no condition to drive.

In the case of an electronic breathalyzer, it suffices to blow directly into the mouthpiece provided for this purpose. The results will then be displayed after a few seconds on the digital screen.

Drunk driving: what are the authorized thresholds?

Drunk driving is a traffic offense. Since July 1, 2015, the tolerated blood alcohol limit is:

  • 0.2 grams per liter of blood for young drivers in probationary period (i.e. 0.1 mg per liter of exhaled air)
  • and less than 0.5 grams per liter of blood for experienced drivers (ie 0.25 mg per liter of exhaled air).

As a reminder, each “glass” consumed raises the alcohol level from 0.20 g to 0.25 g on average. And the same amount of alcohol does not have the same effects in everyone. The alcohol level can be influenced by gender, weight, state of health, but also by taking drugs, medication, stress, fatigue, etc.

© NACRe Network

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