Testing for Alcohol: A Timeline of Breath Analysis


If there was ever a product to inspire a creative name for itself, then a breath analyzer was it. Just take a look at its history. Commonly known as breathalyzers, this term actually refers to a specific brand of breath-testing device.

Initial interest in such devices was prompted by the increased popularity of driving. It turned drunkenness from a public nuisance into a safety issue. Then when prohibition was repealed in 1933, authorities became even more concerned about drunk driving.

While more accurate today, and in most cases more versatile, breath-testing devices have not changed much in form or function. Both handheld and desktop models are still used by law enforcement agencies. What has changed is the wide variety of devices on the market, most of them varying in accuracy and the type of technology used to determine an individual’s blood alcohol content (BAC). The most accurate devices are those that employ multiple types of technology to determine a result.

Take a look at the National Law Enforcement Museum’s timeline of breath testers to get a sense of the way these devices have evolved over the years. And if you’re feeling inspired, see what name you can come up with for a breath analyzing machine.

Click on the image below to view larger image.