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Questioning the validity of breath analyzer tests

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, over 26 percent of adults living in Wisconsin admitted in a survey that they had operated a vehicle while they were drunk in the last year. Wisconsin leads the nation in drunk driving with over 33,000 convictions in 2012.

A number of these convictions may have been aided by the use of a breath analyzer, a device that measures blood alcohol concentrations. However, according to a State University of New York professor, breath analyzers may yield unreliable results and lead to innocent people being charged with DUI. In fact, research has indicated that the blood alcohol concentration readings from breath analyzers differ from the actual concentration by at least 15 percent. This discrepancy can lead to people who are not legally drunk being arrested and charged with DUI. 

One reason that the machines may be off is that they can pick up on other substances contain similar molecular structures as the ethyl alcohol found in alcoholic drinks. Of the compounds found in a person’s breath, 70 to 80 percent contain methyl group structures that breath analyzers may incorrectly identify as ethyl alcohol, and therefore return a false BAC estimate.

Other factors can contribute to a false BAC reading. Those who work with or come into contact with certain chemicals and compounds such as paint removers, gasoline and cleaning fluids may return a high BAC, even though they are not intoxicated. Other things that can influence a breath analyzer test include electrical interference, tobacco smoke, blood or vomit in the mouth and moisture.

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