Personal Attention.
Aggressive Defense.

Photo of Thomas C. Mooney

Is a breathalyzer always accurate?

On Behalf of | Jun 6, 2024 | Drunk Driving

If you’ve been a motorist for more than a few years, you’ve probably encountered breathalyzers at DUI checkpoints. These are a common tool used by law enforcement to assess blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in suspected drunk driving cases.

They are more reliable than Standardized Field Sobriety tests (SFSTs). However, this isn’t to say that breathalyzers are completely error-free. By understanding what might compromise the accuracy of these devices, you can better advocate for your rights if you ever encounter DUI-related trouble.

What is a breathalyzer device?

A breathalyzer is a device that a person blows into, and then the device calibrates the individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Theoretically, it’s a handy tool for law enforcement officers to help deter drunk driving on the roadways.

However, it doesn’t work like a magic bullet; there’s an underlying chemical reaction or a fuel cell sensor that detects alcohol molecules in a driver’s breath. This is one area where errors can arise because the approximated BAC can vary based on what the cell sensors pick up or how the chemical reaction unfolds.

The error margin of a breathalyzer can vary from one device to another. The portable Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) that law enforcement officers use on the roadsides tends to be less accurate than the Evidential Breath Test (EBT) used at police stations.

What might compromise breathalyzer accuracy?

Like any device, the quality of a breathalyzer can be compromised if it’s not well maintained. So, even if a law enforcement officer uses a high-grade device on you, the results might be inaccurate if it’s not been well maintained.

You cannot tell if the police departments where various breathalyzers come from routinely calibrate their devices to a known standard. Therefore, it can help to engage a legal representative each time a law enforcement officer asks you to blow into a breathalyzer. There’s always a possibility that you might be convicted based on inaccurate results. Speaking with a trusted legal representative can help ensure you have a chance to fight such charges.

While breathalyzers are invaluable tools for promoting road safety and enforcing DUI laws, their accuracy is not absolute. Accurate results require regular device maintenance, and you can never tell if the device you’re blowing into has been properly calibrated. Therefore, you shouldn’t treat your results as set in stone. Your legal team may be able to challenge them successfully.