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BAC or Plain BAD? Faulty Breathalyzers and You

This article is part of a 4-part series on breathalyzers. For the latest article, read “The Colorado Case of Concealed… Portable Breath Testers?” on Medium. Find the original Times article here: “These Machines Can Put You in Jail. Don’t Trust Them.”

Quick! What do breathalyzers and the hottest kids’ toys have in common?

Much like popular children’s toys that require additional batteries for usage, breathalyzers are simply not operational right out of the box.

According to a recent Times investigation, breath-testing devices used by law enforcement require fine calibration before they are sent out of labs and into the hands of your local police officer.

In their joint article published on November 3, 2019, Cowley and Silver-Greenberg explain the sensitive process behind every alcohol test machine that is sent out to state police departments.

“Each machine needs to be calibrated using samples with known alcohol concentrations,” Cowley and Silver-Greenberg state. Accordingly, “[t]he process can take an hour or more per machine.”

When machines aren’t properly calibrated, they can risk being up to “40 percent too high.” These miscalibrated devices then produce results that are outside of the acceptable margin of error.

“In the United States, it’s illegal to drive with a BAC of . 08 percent or higher, at which point it’s considered a DUI or DWI. However, the margin of error with portable breathalyzers can reach 15 percent, and up to 23 percent of the drivers charged for DUI/DWI may be victims of inaccurate breathalyzer results.” (Proctor Cars)

Using affected devices, breath scores create inaccurate breath test results and erroneous charges. This was the case with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Intoxilyzer instruments, which were discovered to be miscalibrated between September 2008 and February 2010.

Though faulty breathalyzers invariably lead to erroneous charges of drunk or impaired driving, there are other notable factors that may affect breath test results.

For instance, having a higher body temperature may result in a higher breathalyzer result. Lower readings, on the other hand, may occur when the test is taken closer to the time of drinking — before the alcohol has fully been absorbed into the blood.

Accuracy may also be affected by electrical interference from cell phones, blood or vomit in the mouth, or mouthwash. These seemingly minor presences can disturb alcohol breath tests and provide falsely high BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) percentages.

Is there anything to be done regarding these discrepancies in alcohol breath test monitoring?

Though there’s little to be done regarding discrepancies in breath test monitoring and calibration, the future of breathalyzers may be found outside of the machines themselves.

For instance, Otorize, a new app for cognitive impairment testing, does not require a physical device to function.

“Otorize is a proven and effective app for preventing impaired driving. The app uses the Inspection Time test, which has been proven to directly correlate blood alcohol concentration and response time, to identify cognitive impairment.” (Start-Up Nation Central)

Using a scientifically proven test to assess impairment regardless of substance, this breakthrough mobile app offers an easy solution for detecting cognitive impairment.

Steering away from faulty technology that must be recalibrated, Otorize’s Inspection Time test is fast and customized with you in mind.

You can download Otorize on the Google Play Store or learn more about it here.

Works consulted:

  1. “These Machines Can Put You in Jail. Don’t Trust Them.” (Times)

  2. “How do Alcohol Breathalyzers Work and How Accurate Are They?” (Proctor Cars)

  3. “Breathalyzers of the Future Today” (The Atlantic)

  4. “Breathalyzer Calibration Questions” (


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