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What are factors affecting breath test accuracy?

If you have ever been pulled over on suspicion of drinking and driving, you may have been asked to submit to a roadside breath test. These devices are used by law enforcement officers in Texas and across the United States as a way to measure a driver’s blood alcohol content level. The problem lies in the fact that the blood alcohol content level read off of a breath test device may differ considerably when compared to the BAC level taken from an actual blood test. In some cases, the BAC level obtained from a breath test device may cause you to be mistakenly charged with a DUI.

According to researchers from the State University of New York at Potsdam, at least one in four people have a BAC level reading that is higher than their actual BAC. Results may vary by as much as 15 percent from an actual blood alcohol content level. There are certain factors that affect this BAC level reading. These include:

  •          Residual blood, vomit or food in a person’s mouth
  •          Cigarette smoke, gasoline, pollution and cleaning fluid fumes
  •          Residual temperature or relative humidity of the air
  •          Electrical interference from cellphones and officers’ radios

Officers who do not know how to use the breath test devices properly or devices that have not been calibrated correctly may also give false readings. Furthermore, physical activity and hematocrit levels can cause changes in breath test device readings as well. If you have a lower hematocrit level, your reading can be falsely high.

This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.

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