When people in Naples are asked to visualize a drunk driving arrest, they likely will immediately conjure up images of one standing beside his or her car and blowing into a handheld breathalyzer device. Indeed, these devices has seemingly become the visual representation most equate with drunk driving. Many may believe that they are the singular tool law enforcement officers use to determine a driver’s level of impairment. Yet do the results that they produce justify their association?
According to the National Motorists Association, the answer to that question in unequivocally no. It points to research that shows that these devices have a margin for error in determining one’s blood alcohol content that may be as high as 50 percent. Many would say the reason for this discrepancy is glaringly simple: These devices do not measure blood alcohol content. Rather, they record the alcohol concentration of the air being tested. While a standardized formula is then used to convert the measurement to BAC, the fact remains that the test itself is not a direct measurement.
Why is this so concerning? Were one to consider a breathalyzer device’s error margin in conjunction with a measurement of 0.08, that could mean that the test subject has an actual BAC as high as 0.13, but also as low as 0.03. The standard for being “under the influence” developed by both the American Medical Association and the National Safety Council lists the BAC range of 0.00-0.049 as indicating “no influence of alcohol within the meaning of the law.” That means that in the aforementioned example, the test subject’s BAC could be well within legal limits.
For this reason, breathalyzer tests do not meet the legal standards of being chemical tests. Thus, drivers may refuse to take them without violating implied consent laws.