I have previously pointed out that breath-testing machines that are designed to determine the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of suspected drunk drivers are not as reliable as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and law enforcement agencies have been led to believe. The fact is, manufacturers of some of these breath-testing instruments have avoided requests that they warrant them to accurately measure BAC levels.
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Since the days of medical practice, doctors have been aware that the study of human breath was an important component when diagnosing the medical problems of a patient because blood flows through the lungs and expelled during the act of breathing.
The first breath alcohol concentration test was developed in 1938 and was called The Drunkometer. In 1941, the Intoximeter was invented and was closely followed by the Alcometer. All of these breath-testing instruments were designed to measure the BAC levels of air samples found in a person's lungs. Before the invention of these breath-testing devices, the only reliable way to determine the BAC of a person was by conducting blood or urine tests, both of which were expensive and took time to complete.
In 1954, an officer with the Indiana State Police, invented the Breathalyzer, a device that became popular at police departments across the country, due to its portability.
Early breath-testing required that samples be obtained by requiring a person to blow up a balloon, providing a deep air lung sample for testing. The air from the balloon was expelled over photoelectric chemicals, which would change color if alcohol was present. Obviously, the deeper the colors became, the higher the BAC level.
The results of this device were often challenged as it became known that the process would produce false results. For example, the use of mouthwash that contained alcohol prior to providing a breath sample could inflated the BAC reading.
By the 1980s, chemical breath tests became less common as attorneys successfully challenged the results in court. Today, infrared breath tests are used by law enforcement officers when investigating a suspect DUI case. So how reliable are these breath-testing machines in a quest to determine a person's BAC level? We should also ask what these breath-testing machines actually measure? The answer is countless different chemical compounds, including gasoline.
A news report appearing appearing in the Spokane Spokesman-Review talked about a person sitting in jail awaiting trial on DUI charges who claimed to not have anything to drink. The suspect had further climbed that he had run out of gasoline and had simply siphoned gasoline from a container into his vehicle's tank prior to being stopped by the law enforcement officer who had arrested on DUI charges. During the siphoning process, the suspect claimed that he had sucked on the hose and had accidentally swallowed a small amount of the gasoline. The suspect then claimed that swallowing the gasoline had caused the excessive BAC reading.
Eventually, the suspect talked the law enforcement authorities holding him in jail into a demonstration in an effort to prove his claims. After one week of incarceration, the suspect was taken from his cell and was allowed to swallow a cup of unleaded gasoline after which he blew into the breath-testing machine, in this case, an Intoximeter 3000.
After five minutes had passed, the BAC reading was 0.00 percent. After 10 minutes, the BAC reading was 0.04 percent. After 20 minutes, the breath-testing machine registered a BAC of 0.31 percent. And, after one hour had passed, the BAC reading was 0.28 percent. The suspect was tested after three hours had passed and he blew a BAC of 0.24 percent, three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent. Law enforcement officials contacted a local gasoline distributor to confirm that the gasoline contained no alcohol.
According to the news report, the results were verified in a study conducted by CMI, Inc., the manufacturer of a competing breath machine, the Intoxilyzer 5000. The CMI technicians mixed a similar solution of 800 micrograms of gasoline with 500 milliliters of distilled water prior to introducing it into their machine. That solution produced BAC readings of .619 percent, .631 percent and .635 percent or about eight times the legal limit for BAC levels.
Subsequent studies have shown that breathing gasoline fumes can result in elevated BAC results. It's possible that the act of absorption of gasoline fumes through the skin may lead to false BAC results.
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