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New Study Shows Breathalyzers Are Not Always Accurate

Man taking a breathalyzer test.

What can render breathalyzer tests to be inaccurate?

A DUI conviction can change your life. If you are convicted of this crime, you might face jail time, significant fines, and loss of your license, not to mention a conviction on your permanent record. To be convicted of a DUI is troubling enough, but what if you were convicted based on false evidence? Unfortunately, a new study conducted by the New York Times suggests that thousands of innocent drivers may be charged with DUIs annually due to inaccurate breathalyzer testing. Our Phoenix DUI lawyers explore the potential inaccuracy of breathalyzer tests below.

Human Error and Insufficient Oversight 

When you are stopped on suspicion of a DUI, you will likely be asked to blow into a small device known as a breathalyzer. Officers administer breathalyzer tests either at the scene of the stop or at the police station. All states will punish drivers who refuse testing by stripping their driver’s license. Breathalyzer tests have become a cornerstone of DUI arrests. In most cases, the results of the breathalyzer test will be paramount to the case.  

Despite decades of use and millions of DUI arrests, a new investigation raises important questions as to just how reliable these widely used devices really are. Breathalyzer tests have been found to generate grossly skewed results. Judges in New Jersey and Massachusetts have thrown out over 30,000 breath tests in the past year. Similar actions have been taken by judges nationwide. 

The main causes of invalidated testing are human error and a lack of oversight. Breathalyzer tests must be carefully calibrated to ensure accuracy. Tests that are not properly calibrated have been found to yield results some 40 percent too high. Each police department is in charge of maintaining its own tests, and in many areas tests are not maintained up to standard or maintained by people without experience. Alarmingly, some lab officials have been found to use stale chemical solutions or even solutions made on their own, distorting results. One Massachusetts machine even had rats nesting in it.

The New York Times study interviewed scientists, police officers, lawyers, and others, combined with combing through court records, to discover a national problem concerning the accuracy of breathalyzer tests. Despite serious concerns as to the accuracy of breathalyzer testing, these tests continue to send millions of Americans to jail, forever altering their lives. More research and heightened oversight is needed to prevent the wrongful arrest and conviction of innocent Americans.

Posted in: DUI