Can Breath Testing Devices Be Trusted?

Can Breath Testing Devices Be Trusted?

November 27, 2019

We’re all familiar with the concept of alcohol breath tests in Cincinnati, OH. You’re pulled over for suspected drunk driving and presented with a device to blow into, which gauges your blood alcohol content (BAC). Blow higher than 0.08 percent and it’s enough for cops to slap on the cuffs and put you in the back of a squad car. But are alcohol breath tests accurate?

When presented with a breathalyzer at a traffic stop, the law dictates you must comply with the BAC test. Refusing could land you in hot water, with a license suspension and possible jail time. But the problem is, breath tests aren’t as ironclad as we believe them to be. In fact, there’s strong evidence to suggest they’re not very accurate at all! Look at the state of Massachusetts, for example—the state threw out eight years of breath tests after evidence of inaccuracies presented in more than a handful of cases.

Can alcohol breath tests be trusted? Increasingly, no. As we learn more about the science behind them and the nature of the machines, more breath test results are ending up in court, and more people are winning appeals against them. Here’s why.

Calibration leads to error

Breath test machines are subject to a lot of human error—namely, in calibration. The machines need to be calibrated properly to provide the correct baseline reading when testing someone’s breath. An officer or lab tech improperly calibrating a machine could taint the results of every person blowing into it.

Case in point, a New Jersey State Trooper was found to have improperly calibrated a breathalyzer that led to several DUI and OVI convictions. After investigation, these rulings were overturned and more than 18,000 tests were invalidated!

Maintenance may be an issue

Like all equipment, breathalyzer machines need routine maintenance. After years in the field, insufficient maintenance may lead to faulty readings. All it takes is for a few fractions of a percent to be off and someone may fall on the wrong side of the BAC scale. Failing to reset, recalibrate and refurbish breath testing units is a real problem among police departments, with very real consequences for drivers.

Administration isn’t always correct

Breath tests can be finicky machines. There’s a very specific procedure for blowing to ensure the most accurate BAC reading. Usually it involves turning the machine on, letting it rest idly for several minutes, then inhaling through the machine and exhaling back into it. Some machines have a blow-breathe-blow pattern. Almost every machine requires inhale/exhale of at least three seconds to gauge an accurate reading.

Officers failing to administer a breath test to the specifications of the instrument they’re using could yield inaccurate results. Improper administration is one of the prime claims in defense proceedings and can be successful in overturning erratic readings.

Pushback against breath tests is real

The word is out about the suspect nature of alcohol breath tests in Cincinnati, OH. More and more drivers wrongly convicted of DUI or OVI are pushing back, fighting these results. States like Massachusetts and New Jersey have already seen challenges to these tests, with many other states facing similar pushback. If you believe your breath test was tainted or incorrect, it’s important to join the fight.

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