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3 ways roadside breath testing devices go wrong

Under Pennsylvania’s implied consent law, drivers must submit to a breath test when officers request one. Roadside breath testing devices, however, may produce unreliable readings, as an investigation by the New York Times uncovered.

Despite breath testing device manufacturers typically marketing their products’ precise readings, no government oversight exists to guarantee their accuracy. If a testing device rounds out three decimals to two decimal places, an officer may note a reading of 0.079 as 0.08. Test results with a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration could then lead to an arrest and a driving under the influence charge.

Improper use

In addition to a device rounding up to two decimal places, a traffic officer could lack adequate device training. If an officer fails to calibrate an electronic device properly, it could show a BAC reading 40% higher than an actual blood alcohol concentration.

Because of an inaccurate test device reading, an officer may believe a driver has a BAC over the legal limit. An officer, however, has the authority to make an arrest and file charges based on what appears on the device.

Software glitches

Test devices could experience software glitches that produce inaccurate readings. As noted by the New York Times investigation, the New Jersey Supreme Court allowed attorneys to consult with software professionals to test the accuracy of a roadside model used by the state. The results revealed programming errors that caused unreliable readings.

Motorists appearing to show signs of impairment must follow Pennsylvania’s implied consent law by providing breath samples. Officers, however, must first have reasonable cause to suspect that alcohol consumption influenced a driver’s actions. Based on the circumstances and the potential for device errors, defendants may contest their charges. Judges may dismiss cases when prosecutors fail to provide strong enough evidence to support a DUI charge.