The problem with breathalyzers

On Behalf of | May 5, 2020 | DUI |

Let’s say you are driving home after having dinner and a couple of drinks (2) with some friends. It had been a while since your last drink, you have drunk some water and feel fine to drive. While we shouldn’t drive, it’s a reality that happens from time to time for some people. You had limited drinks and paired them appropriately, so you don’t worry about getting cited for a DUI.

On your way home, you inadvertently swerve slightly while adjusting the air conditioning or changing the radio station – a cop notices this swerve, pulls you over and administers numerous DUI tests, including asking you to take a breathalyzer test. You agree because you are sure that you will blow below the legal limit. You also agree because of Georgia’s implied consent law. Disagreeing can have negative legal ramifications like confiscating your driver’s license and suspended driving privileges for one year if you don’t request a formal hearing to dispute your license suspension.

So, you agree to take the breathalyzer test, and it reads drastically higher than you anticipated. The police offer then charges you with a DUI and brings you into the station, but something doesn’t seem right because there is no way that your blood alcohol level is as high as the breathalyzer reported. Well, that’s precisely the problem, the inaccuracy of breathalyzer tests.

Miscalibration causes faulty readings

Breathalyzer devices are technologically driven tools, and thus, require consistent calibration to work accurately. That problem is that these devices are often not calibrated, or done so improperly. 

Around 1.5 million Americans arrests for drunk driving occur each year. How many of those are because of faulty breathalyzer readings. The full count is not available, but a New York Times study discovered that these devices used by almost every police unit in the United States are greatly inaccurate. In fact, a judge in Massachusetts found the readings to be so faulty that he dismissed breathalyzer results as evidence in 30,000 cases from November 2018 to November 2019, when the New York Times story was published.

In conjunction with poor calibrations, human error, foreign substances (mouthwash, breath mints, paint fumes, varnish and other chemicals) and inconsistency (failing to perform the test multiple times to ensure accuracy) can lead to faulty readings.

If you get pulled over and are charged with a DUI, evaluate the circumstances that led to your arrest because you may very well have a case against a faulty breathalyzer.