What you need to know about Breathalyzers

If you are ever stopped for suspected driving while intoxicated, you should expect the police to ask you to submit to a breath test. In New Jersey, law enforcement officers use the Breathalyzer machine. There are a few things you might want to know about this device if you ever find yourself in the position of having to use one.

First, it is important to know how this machine works so that you know what to do when asked to give a sample and so you know what your results mean. Second, it is good to know that device accuracy can be an issue. Finally third, if you fail the test, you might find some reassurance in knowing that it may be possible to fight the results.

Breathalyzer basics

You may have seen a Breathalyzer online, on television, in movies or even in person. It is a little box with a tube extending out of the top that contains chemicals specifically designed to detect alcohol. When you provide a breath sample by blowing into the machine, the sample passes into the box and the chambers with the chemicals. If alcohol is detected, an estimated blood-alcohol percentage is displayed on the device screen.


There are those out there who claim that Breathalyzers and other devices like them are extremely accurate. This is not actually true. They are prone to error and have as much as a 15% margin of error. What can cause Breathalyzer inaccuracy? Quite a few things, including:

  • Improper cleaning
  • Failure to maintain
  • Broken parts
  • Improper administration

Along with these issues, several substances can cause a high readout, such as:

  • Medications
  • Mints
  • Mouthwash
  • Vinegar
  • Paint remover
  • Cleaning fluids

In other words, these devices are very sensitive. Some believe that as much as 23% of individuals charged with DWI are the victims of Breathalyzer error.

Fighting results

Fighting the results of a breath test is not easy. New Jersey criminal courts tend to believe the recorded results. However, if there is evidence that suggests Breathalyzer error occurred in your case, it may be possible to have the results of your test thrown out — regardless of what caused the error. This could greatly help you as you seek a case dismissal or at least a reduction in charges which could minimize any potential penalties that accompany a conviction.

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