What is a breathalyser test?

There are a number of instances where the police can stop you while you’re driving your van or car.
They can stop you if they believe that you’ve committed a traffic offence – for instance, if they watch you run a red light or catch you using your mobile phone at the wheel.

They can also pull you over if you’ve been involved in an accident and have fled the scene, or if they have reason to believe that you’ve been drinking alcohol.
If you’re found guilty of any of the above, you could be convicted of a motoring offence. Chances are that you’ll receive points on your licence and a possible fine, but you could also be banned from driving or spend time in jail for very serious cases.
In this article, we’ll find out more about breathalyser tests and what happens when you’re asked to take one.
Drivers who have one or more convictions on their driving record could find it very difficult getting affordable van insurance in future. It might even be the case that certain insurance providers will refuse to provide policies to convicted drivers. If this sounds all too familiar, the Insurance Factory can help.
We’ve got decades of experience arranging van insurance for drink drivers and drivers who have committed a range of other motoring and non-motoring offences. Rather than tar all motorists with the same brush, we’ll take a look at your individual case and requirements before finding a suitable policy from our panel of specialist insurers.
We’ll strive to be as competitive as possible with our pricing, with each policy packed with the same benefits as standard van insurance.

What is the breathalyser test for drunk driving?

The breathalyser test for drunk driving is a pivotal tool utilised by law enforcement agencies worldwide to combat the dangerous and too often fatal issue of driving under the influence. But what exactly is this test? In the UK, it works on a simple yet effective principle.

The breathalyser test, or alcohol breath test, measures the amount of alcohol in your breath, which is then used to estimate the level of alcohol in your blood. This provides the police with an immediate indication of whether a driver is over the legal alcohol limit. If the breathalyser shows that you're over the limit, you could face severe penalties including fines, disqualification from driving, or even imprisonment.

How does a breathalyser work?

The answer lies in the science of chemistry and physics. When a person consumes alcohol, it gets absorbed into their bloodstream and carried to the lungs. As they exhale, alcohol vapors are expelled along with carbon dioxide. The breathalyser captures this breath sample.

The core component of a breathalyser is a chemical sensor or fuel cell that reacts with the alcohol in the breath sample. This reaction generates an electrical current, proportional to the amount of alcohol present.

The device then translates this current into a blood alcohol concentration reading, displayed on the screen. This, in essence, is how a breathalyser works.

The lowdown on breathalyser tests

One of the main reasons why drivers get pulled over is because the police believe that they’ve been drinking alcohol. There are several tell-tale signs that a driver has been drinking alcohol, which include:
  • Driving either much faster or slower than the speed limits
  • Swerving between lanes 
  • Tailgating other cars
  • Driving very close to the kerb
  • Making wide turns
  • Failing to stop at traffic lights or stop signs, or stopping at the very last minute (delayed reactions)
  • Excessive braking and slow acceleration
  • The smell of alcohol coming from the vehicle
If a driver is caught doing any of these things then the police are allowed to pull them over and perform what’s known as a breathalyser test.
 A breathalyser on a table next to a pint of beer and car keys

Can you refuse to take a breathalyser test?

As the Gov.Uk website explains, drivers that refuse to take the breathalyser test – also referred to as a breath test – or fail to supply a breath sample can be arrested.

That’s if they don’t have a so-called reasonable excuse for not providing a breath sample. A reasonable excuse might be a mental or physical condition that prevents them from providing a breath sample.
If you’re asked to do a breath test, the police will use a breathalyser device to estimate your blood alcohol content (BAC). You’ll be asked to blow into the device, which will then provide the police with a reading after just a few seconds.
If the reading shows that you’re not over the limit, then it’s likely the police will let you go. However, if you fail the test, you’ll be taken to a police station where you’ll be required to do another breath test. Fail at this one and you’ll be charged.
In the event that the police officer thinks you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they can also ask you to take a drugs test which involves swabbing your mouth to test for the presence of drugs.

They might also ask you to perform a physical test – known as a field impairment test – like walking in a straight line, turning around and walking back again.
If you fail the test then you can be arrested. And obviously, if you’re found to be under the influence of drink or drugs then you can’t drive your car again until you’re sober. You may have to ask someone else to pick up your car for you.


A recap on drink drive limits

So, just what is the alcohol limit for drivers? The rules actually vary depending on where you live – for drivers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland it’s as follows:
  • 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
  • 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood
  • 107 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine
The rules are stricter in Scotland, where the limits are:
  • 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
  • 50 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood
  • 67 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine

Will 1 beer show up on a breathalyser?

Yes, indeed, a single beer can show up on a breathalyser. The amount of alcohol in your system can be detected by a breathalyser, which measures the alcohol concentration in your breath.

This is then converted into blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Even if you've only had one beer, your BAC could still be above the legal limit, depending on various factors such as how much alcohol, your body weight, the rate at which your body metabolises alcohol, and how much you've eaten.

 A woman loooking unhappy as she fails a roadside breathalyser test from her car

The penalties for drink driving  

If you fail both of the breathalyser tests and are convicted of drink driving, the penalty will depend on how severe your case is. The magistrates court that hears your case will decide on what penalty to issue you with.
To give you a general idea, being in charge of a vehicle while above the legal limit or unfit through drink could result in a fine of up to £2,500, a potential driving ban and three months’ imprisonment.

Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of alcohol carries a potentially unlimited fine, 14 years’ imprisonment, a ban from driving for at least two years and the requirement to take an extended driving test before your licence is returned.


Van insurance for drink drivers from the Insurance Factory  

The main piece of advice for anyone thinking about getting behind the wheel of their car or van after drinking alcohol is don’t do it!
If you’ve been caught drink driving, have learned your lesson and are now looking to get on the road again, remember the Insurance Factory can help.
A range of optional extras are available alongside our van insurance for drink drivers such as:
  • Guaranteed 14-day van replacement (subject to terms and conditions)
  • Excess protection
  • Breakdown, accidental damage and tool cover available
  • 14 day like-for-like van hire
  • Key care cover
  • Gadget cover
When you’re ready, get a free, no-obligation quote!