Breathalyzer tests have become commonplace across the country, but this does not mean they are always accurate. In fact, there are hundreds of cases every year that are dismissed due to concerns about the reliability of breathalyzer data. It is important to understand the technical aspects behind how breathalyzers work. You may be able to use it to your advantage one day.
How do Breathalyzer Tests Work?
Although most people assume that a breathalyzer test actually calculates the amount of alcohol in their blood stream, it actually estimates the amount of alcohol present in the mouth. According to a leading breathalyzer distributor, Andatech, "(A breathalyzer) measures alcohol content by creating a chemical reaction through platinum metal that oxidizes the alcohol in the sample and produces an electrical current." This electrical current is then measured by a microprocessor, and displayed as an approximate PBT (preliminary blood test) reading.
A sensitive breathalyzer test can detect mouth alcohol even if you have recently burped or used mouthwash. For this reason, police officers are instructed to wait 15 minutes before they administer a test. During this time period, the officer is supposed to observe you to ensure that you do not put anything in your mouth or burp. Additionally, many jurisdictions require the law enforcement officer to administer the test twice if your results are borderline.
Legal Obligation outweighs Technical Requirements
Many people are not aware of the technical requirements associated with the breathalyzer device, which could ultimately affect their reading. Below are just a few scenarios that can cause modified readings.
- Breathalyzers must be recalibrated and maintained regularly. Sometimes this necessary step does not occur, resulting in as much as a 15% variance in results.
- The device's operational capabilities may be altered by temperature fluctuations.
- Various chemical residues can affect professional grade tester readings.
What Other Factors can Cause a Breathalyzer Test to Fa
In addition to ensuring that the proper 15 minute window passes prior to testing, it is also necessary for a police officer to take breathing patterns into account as well as differing alcohol tolerance levels. Although breathalyzer devices used in law enforcement must meet certification standards, each of the above mentioned factors can cause doubt. This is one of the main reasons so many tests are questioned in court. Therefore, it is vital that this technology continue to be improved.
Understanding how breathalyzers work, and in some cases how unreliable they can be, lends support to the fact that the help of a skilled DUI attorney is almost always needed to argue the point of whether or not the data can be used against you. Technology's role in our lives for the most part has a positive impact. However, the ability of a breathalyzer reading to potentially cause someone to be convicted of a crime they did not commit most certainly can have a negative impact that will last the rest of their life. Such instruments deserve the necessary attention from those engineers that can enhance them accordingly.
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