We’ve all seen one in action, whether in a dramatized commercial discouraging drunk driving or in real life. Breathalyzer tests are widely used by police officers to detect alcohol in an individual’s breath. The concept is simple: you put the device into your mouth and blow, and a number displays that either lets you go on your merry way or puts you in the backseat of a cop car.
But are these contraptions as accurate as we think they are? For the most part—yes; however, they are not perfect. A November 2018 Supreme Court ruling exemplifies this. Nearly 21,000 drunken-driving convictions in New Jersey were ruled inadmissible.
Read on to learn about the case, how breathalyzers work, and how they can be inaccurate.
What Brought the Court to Its Decision?
So, just how did the court come to its conclusion? Well, The New York Times reports the ruling was based on criminal charges against a state police sergeant who allegedly falsified breathalyzer calibration records.
That’s right—negligence isn’t the only way for a test to be inaccurate.
How Does a Breathalyzer Work?
Before we dive into what else can risk inaccuracy, it’s helpful to know a few basics. First off, the machine measures a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). It’s important to note these readings are only an estimate. The legal limit may fluctuate, but for Californians, it’s 0.08% and up.
Just how is that number produced? We’ll spare you the super-scientific details. All you need to know is alcohol enters both your bloodstream and your lungs. The Alcohol Pharmacology Education Partnership at Duke University reports that the concentration may start as a liquid, but it eventually vaporizes in the lungs, and your body eliminates it through your breath. This is what the test picks up.
Proctor Cars reports that most devices are made of the same main pieces:
- A mouthpiece
- A tube into which you blow
- A chamber that analyzes your sample
What Can Increase Inaccuracy?
Proctor Cars also reports a few factors that affect accuracy:
- Body chemistry: From a high body temperature to blood composition to acid reflux, chemical interactions can skew results.
- Interference: Machines aren’t perfect. The test’s accuracy can be affected by the type of breathalyzer used and even nearby radio and phone signals.
- Human error: Misusing the machinery, or improper maintenance, can lead to inaccurate readings.
- Other factors: Chemical residue from vinegar, mouthwash, or even cleaning supplies can be picked up by a breathalyzer.
Where Can You Find Help?
What should you do if you are concerned about your breathalyzer results? Call the dedicated Orange County DUI attorney at the Law Office of Michael L. Guisti. To discuss your case, call (888) 478-8999.