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What you should know about breathalyzers

If officers pull you over for alleged DUI, Virginia’s implied consent law requires you to submit to a breathalyzer test if the officers ask you to do so. Failure to do so likely will result in the immediate suspension of your driver’s license.

As you likely already know, in Virginia, a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher qualifies as driving under the influence of alcohol. But can you rely on the breathalyzer’s result as accurate? No, you cannot.

Inaccuracy factors

What most people fail to understand is that breathalyzers are notoriously inaccurate. You therefore may well wish to challenge the breathalyzer results at your trial if one of the following applied at the time you took the test:

  • Your body temperature was unusually high.
  • You suffer from diabetes.
  • You had recently taken your prescription medication that contains alcohol.
  • You had recently eaten food, such as salad dressing, that contained vinegar.
  • You had recently used a breath mint or mouthwash.
  • You had recently worked with paint thinner, paint remover or cleaning fluids.

All of the above can and do cause breathalyzers to record inaccurately high BAC results.

Breathalyzer makes

The make of the breathalyzer officers used likewise makes a difference in its accuracy. For instance, both fuel cell and infrared breathalyzers have the reputation for routinely recording such inaccurate results that few courts allow their readings into evidence. Did the officer who tested you use one of these types of devices?

Even color-changing breathalyzers, the most accurate type, do not always produce accurate BAC readings. In fact, some estimate that up to 23% of nationwide DUI convictions result from inaccurate breathalyzer readings that the defendants did not challenge.

Given all of the above information, your wisest strategy when facing DUI charges based on your breathalyzer test results is to have your attorney do his or her homework prior to trial. Keep in mind that breathalyzers, like all machines and devices, require the proper calibration and maintenance. In addition, officers require training in their usage. Did the officer who tested you have the proper training? Did he or she perform the proper calibration and maintenance? The answers to these questions may well raise sufficient reasonable doubt to acquit you of the DUI charges.