You are out driving, and suddenly you see red and blue lights in your rearview mirror. A cop has pulled you over after suspecting you were operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI). Besides a field sobriety test, the officer may have you blow into a breath test. If your results showed a blood alcohol (BAC) concentration of .08% or higher, the law considers you legally impaired, and you face charges of drunk driving.

But, are the machines used for these tests accurate and reliable? That question was asked in 2014, and the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the state’s Department of Health had to turn over all data a breath machine captured. Defense attorneys viewed this ruling as a win because, without that information, it could have been difficult to prove if the machines used were reliable.

The question was raised again by the New York Times when it reviewed thousands of documents and interviewed experts like lawyers, police officers and scientists. This study showed a possible nationwide problem with breath test machines.

Experts and defense attorneys across the country, including in this state, have questioned the Intoxilyzer 8000, one of breath test machines approved in Ohio. A local reporter swished alcohol in his mouth then blew into the machine – a breathalyzer machine expert noted he blew a .169. His result was based on the alcohol in his mouth and not lung alcohol, which is what is looked at when determining if someone is over the legal limit. The reporter blew into the machine a second time, blowing a .07.

Challenging the results of the test

What does all of this mean for you? It means if arrested for drunk driving, your attorney can and should question the validity of the results of a breathalyzer. If an unqualified tester administered the test or the machine was not correctly calibrated, an attorney can challenge the results.

There is also a required 20-minute observation period that a tester needs to meet before giving the suspected drunk driver a breath test. This is to make sure the driver did not ingest any foreign substance or burp or throw up, which could affect the results.

A breath test over the legal limit does not mean an automatic guilty sentence. As more questions come up about the reliability of breath tests in OVI stops, the more prosecutors will have to rely on other methods to prove guilt in these cases.