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Factors affecting the accuracy of breath tests in Pennsylvania

Every day, people are arrested for suspicion of drunk driving across Pennsylvania. In fact, there were more than 45,000 adults arrested for DUI in 2014, according to the state’s Uniform Crime Reporting System. At Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C., we know that breath tests are often integral to convictions on such charges. However, the results of breath tests are not always accurate.

Breathalyzers do not directly measure your blood alcohol concentration, or BAC. Rather, these devices estimate your BAC level. To do this, breath tests measure the amount of alcohol in your breath. Consequently, there are a number of factors that could affect breathalyzer readings.

Inhalation of certain fumes, consuming some foods and a number of medical conditions may cause inaccurate breath test results. For example, if you painted, used contact cement or even smoked cigarettes before submitting to a breathalyzer, you may show an elevated BAC level. Likewise, you may have a false reading if you have diabetes or liver disease, among other ailments. Eating some breads and other foods may also affect the accuracy of your breath test results.

Although they should be regularly calibrated to avoid such issues, substances in the air may affect breath test readings. If the machine is not properly maintained, it may not account for the relative humidity and temperature, which may cause inaccurate results. Additionally, pollutants in the air, such as heavy concentrations of dirt, may lead to falsely elevated results.

Due to the potential for inaccuracies, you may be hesitant to submit to a breath test. Refusing such tests, however, may carry additional penalties. You may consider asking to have blood drawn for the purposes of determining your BAC level instead of denying a request to take a breath test altogether.

For more information about consenting to breath tests, please visit our Failure to Test/Challenging the Breathalyzer page.

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Gregory R. Gifford
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