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Are breathalyzer tests accurate?

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Posted on March 13, 2020

Even if you’ve never been pulled over for being drunk behind the wheel, you probably know how police will handle a DUI stop. First, an officer might lean in close enough to see if your breath smells of alcohol. Then, the officer might conduct a field sobriety test. Then, at some point, the officer will administer a breath test, to gauge if you can be charged with DUI.

Across the country, nearly every patrol officer carries a breathalyzer machine to test for drunk drivers. Drivers can be charged with DUIs if their breath tests show a .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). However, if you find yourself facing a DUI after a breathalyzer, you may not realize that these breath tests often produce unreliable results. In fact, in the last year, Massachusetts and New Jersey have thrown out 30,000 breath tests because of errors.

What leads to errors in testing?

Errors in breathalyzer tests occur for many reasons. Some of these include the following:

  • Machine flaws. The machines must be calibrated correctly and maintained correctly to produce accurate results. Even software errors can lead to a faulty reading.
  • Human error or training issues. If an officer administers the test incorrectly or hasn’t been trained how to properly administer a breath test, that can lead to a faulty test.
  • Health issues. Breathalyzers measure acetone and if you are diabetic or hypoglycemic, your acetone levels likely are higher and sometimes can trigger a false-positive DUI reading. Even a low-carb diet can increase acetone levels enough to measure .08 on a breath test.
  • Medication use. Also, if you have been using cough medicine, cold medicine, an albuterol inhaler or other asthma medication, that can lead to a higher BAC breath test reading – even if you haven’t been drinking alcohol.

How can I challenge a breathalyzer result?

If you have been arrested for a DUI because of a breathalyzer test, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you determine if your breath test was administered incorrectly, if the machine was faulty or there was another reason that led to a positive test. An attorney also can work to have DUI charges dropped because of a faulty breath test.

If you are the victim of a faulty breathalyzer reading, it can be worth it to challenge those results and avoid a DUI conviction.