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Report: Breathalyzer results are “skewed” and “often unreliable”

It’s the time of year when the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office put extra officers on the streets. The goal is to not only to find and arrest those who are driving drunk, but to deter others from driving under the influence of alcohol.

Of course, police departments across the nation focus on DUI arrests all year. About a million Americans are pulled over by a cop, given a roadside sobriety test and then charged with drunk driving each year.

One of the tests used most often by police departments is commonly known as the breathalyzer. Drivers blow into the device, which measures the level of alcohol in their breath. In Tennessee, the legal threshold is a BAC (blood alcohol content) of .08 percent.

But a recent investigative piece by the New York Times says the breath tests “are often unreliable” and that breathalyzers “generate skewed results with alarming frequency.”

In the past year, New Jersey and Massachusetts judges have thrown out 30,000-plus breath tests because of “because of human errors and lax governmental oversight,” the Times reports. Thousands more tests have been tossed in other places around the nation.

The sensitive breath-testing devices are often improperly calibrated, a problem that yields results that are 40 percent too high. The law enforcement agencies are themselves responsible for breathalyzer maintenance, but unsurprisingly, cops aren’t technicians – they lack the expertise needed for proper maintenance.

We will have more on problems with breathalyzers and the DUI arrests based on skewed breath test results in an upcoming post.

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