Car News

Roadside breathalyser turns 50…

The roadside breathalyser turns 50 in the UK this weekend but national random breath testing has only been used in Australia since 1982.

UNTIL THE INTRODUCTION of the roadside breathalyser the only way the police could check if someone was drunk driving was to get them to try and touch their nose with their eyes closed. Or, ask them to walk in a straight line or stand on leg.

Then, in 1967 the breathalyser was introduced and, at the time, the then Transport Minister, Barbara Castle was heckled by pub landlords saying she would damage their business. In Australia, when the Fraser Government moved to introduce national random breath testing, some State Ministers pushed back saying it was an infringement of privacy.

So, how did the first breathalysers work? Simple, the police officer would break both ends of a glass tube and then insert one end into a plastic bag and the other into a plastic mouthpiece. The driver would blow into the bag via the mouthpiece. The glass tube contained crystals that were yellow to begin with and would turn green if they detected alcohol. If more than half of the crystals turned green, the driver would be taken back to the police station for a blood and urine sample to confirm findings.


  • Monty

    I used to drink and ride a motor bike. It is a miracle I survived. I gave the alcohol and the bikes away. I used to play a silly game in the English pubs where I lived for a while. It tested reaction time. You put a coin in a slot and hit a button to stop it falling. If you got it in time, you got the coin back. After a few drinks there was no way I could catch the coin, no matter how hard I concentrated. Makes you think.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.