Breath of fresh air

Breathalyzer invented here

One of the greatest deterrents to drunked driving is the Breathalyzer, which has been called the first practical breath-testing instrument for law enforcement. The Breathalyzer’s roots began with Indiana University School of Medicine’s Professor Rolla N. Hager, who developed a breath-testing instrument as early as 1938. It dubbed the Drunkometer.

Robert F. Borkenstein, born Aug. 31, 1912, grew up in Fort Wayne and became a part of the story. He entered the work force as a photographic technician. During the early 1930s he developed a color printing process, which was received favorably by the commercial market. In 1936 he took a position with the Indiana State Police and became involved with the early research and development of lie detector technology. After he became captain and head of laboratory services, he noticed the importance of the Drunkometer technology but also recognized the difficulty of operating it effectively in the field.

Next, Borkenstein enrolled at Indiana University and began his collaboration with Hager in advancing the Drunkometer. By 1953, Borkenstein independently invented a more user-friendly means of detecting drunkenness, now known as the Breathalyzer. When he had earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1958, he was named a professor in the school’s Department of Forensic Studies. When IU formed its Department of Police Administration, he was named its chairman.

His invention of the Breathalyzer revolutionized law enforcement’s efforts to measure alcohol in the blood when investigating an accident and suspecting drink as the culprit. From an exhalation, breath alcohol vapors can be proportionally measured. The Breathalyzer instrument can calculate the proportion of alcohol in the blood.

When Borkenstein was elected to the National Safety Council’s Safety and Health Hall of Fame International in 1988, the council noted, “This technological innovation enabled traffic enforcement authorities to determine and quantify blood alcohol concentrations with sufficient accuracy to meet the demands of legal evidence.”

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