Reliability of Breathalyzers in Baltimore DUI Stops

While Breathalyzers are largely very reliable, they can sometimes give false positives or inaccurately high BAC scores. In order to avoid these inaccuracies as much as possible breathalyzers have to be calibrated, verified, and tested. The machines themselves even have expiration dates regarding testing. As a result, when these machines are worked on, calibrated, and authenticated, all of the details of each machine’s operating ability is recorded and reports are made regarding their operating status. Therefore, whenever a breathalyzer is used for a Baltimore DUI, it is important for an attorney to check the expiration date, ask for the maintenance log, and to pay attention to the details as these things could be used to build a defense.

False Positives or Inaccurately High BAC Scores

If subpoenaed records show that the machine itself has been reporting falsely, that it had issues in terms of consistency, or is not a good machine for some other reason, then the scores will be considered to be less reliable. There is a lot that goes into the test, and the way it is run is important. 

With that said, there are a number of different issues which may make a test less reliable including:

  • If the test administrator was not properly trained or qualified.
  • The result was affected by some characteristic of the driver, such as age; lung function; overall strength and size; a disease or condition such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, dental issues, hiccoughing, burping, vomiting or hyperventilating. Even severe heartburn could have made the breath results unreliable.
  •  The test administrator did not continuously observe the driver for an adequate period before the test to prevent him or her from putting anything into his or her mouth that could affect the result. For example, a product used in the driver’s mouth, such as mouthwash or adhesive, or lip ointment could have affected the test result.

There are also some very unique cases where a human being can produce alcohol in their own system or there is an issue with acid reflux or GERD. There are medical conditions where the acidity of the body is increased due to liver function issues. While these are not common, they certainly have happened before. Therefore, science may not be the best help in these cases, but it is certainly something to check in to. If it is something that can be proven and verified, and has medical information suggesting that it is true, then it should be pursued. 

Calibration of Breathalyzer Machines in Baltimore

The machines and calibration we are talking about are purely for breath testing for the BAC. The intoximeter is generally the machine used and it always has to be maintained, usually under the guidelines of the NHTSA, which is the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. 

As far as technical service and maintenance of these instruments, the machine itself keeps testing records. It has specific procedures about how it needs to be calibrated and there are step-by-step guidelines to do so, including a manual which has to be followed.

The calibration is basically a standardized setting which every machine should have run on it. The technician, also known as the chemist, should always test this machine when they turn it on.

However, the calibration on most machines is not routine at all. If there is a failed accuracy check, then the calibration needs to be done again. For the intoximeters, the accuracy is checked by the machines going through a standard test and the process of running a sample. It tests to make sure that the system is actually getting the gas vapor flowing, that it is standardizing, and then showing a clear reading.

Government Awareness of Breathalyzer Issues

While there have been some issues over the years with the machine, the need for improvement is always there and over time they are improved. That is why there is an intoximeter II which is a second generation device. As time goes on they will continue to find better and more efficient ways to test.

Regardless of future improvements, right now Breathalyzers are considered the most reliable thing out there. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration endorses these machines, and most states, especially the State of Maryland, rely on them exclusively. That is not to say that they are always perfect or right, but they are viewed as the best machine out there by both the state and federal government.