Breath tests are commonly used by police officers to estimate a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The test measures the amount of alcohol in that driver’s breath. While breath tests are widely used for alcohol testing, there are several factors that can potentially lead to inaccuracies in the results.
People sometimes make the mistake of assuming that a breath test must be accurate and that positive results will lead to a conviction. But a conviction is never guaranteed and there are numerous reasons why the test itself could be wrong.
Potential reasons for inaccuracy
Every case is unique, but here are a few potential reasons for inaccuracy in breath test results:
- Calibration and Maintenance: Breath test devices require consistent calibration and maintenance. If a device is not properly calibrated or maintained, the results that it produces may be untrustworthy.
- Operator Error: The person administering the breath test must follow proper procedures to obtain accurate results. Mistakes in the testing process, such as not waiting long enough between tests or not collecting a sufficient breath sample, can lead to incorrect readings.
- Medical Conditions: Some medical conditions may impact the accuracy of breath test readings. Examples include certain diets, diabetes and acid reflux. These conditions may lead to the presence of substances in the breath that could interfere with alcohol measurement.
- Mouth Alcohol: If a person has consumed alcohol recently or has alcohol in their mouth (e.g., from burping, regurgitation or using mouthwash), it can lead to elevated alcohol readings that do not accurately reflect the actual blood alcohol concentration.
- Interference from Substances: Certain substances, such as mouthwash, breath fresheners or cleaning products, may contain alcohol or other compounds that could interfere with breathalyzer readings.
- Instrument Limitations: While modern breathalyzer technology has improved, no device is perfect. Some older models or less advanced devices may have inherent limitations that affect their accuracy. Officers must use only approved models.
- Individual Variability: People’s bodies metabolize alcohol differently, so a standardized breath test reading might not accurately reflect an individual’s impairment level.
It’s important to note that while breath tests can provide a convenient and relatively quick way to estimate BAC levels, they are not infallible. If someone believes that a breath test result is inaccurate or does not reflect their level of impairment, they may have the option to challenge the result in a legal or administrative setting. If you are facing legal consequences based on a breath test result, be sure you understand your rights and options by seeking guidance as proactively as possible.