Recent reports in the Boston Globe highlighted problems with the Breathalyzer, a machine used to calculate blood alcohol content in people who have been arrested for drunk driving. Initial reports stated that a number of these machines had not been maintained properly and may have been providing inaccurate readings. This potentially invalidated any drunk driving conviction that had been established using the data from a Breathalyzer. Attorneys representing accused drunk drivers rushed to see if they could get their clients acquitted using this technicality.
Due process by law is a constitutional right in this country and if false evidence was used to achieve a conviction of any charge, the result is injustice that must be reconsidered. However, drunk driving is a public health problem that requires consistent attention.
Although the numbers have been significantly reduced over the past decade, drunk driving continues to account for over 25,000 motor vehicle fatalities each year.
Blood alcohol content is usually expressed as a percentage of ethanol in the blood in units of mass of alcohol per volume of blood or mass of alcohol per mass of blood, depending on the country. For instance, in North America a BAC of 0.1 (0.1% or one tenth of one percent) means that there are 0.10 g of alcohol for every dL of blood.
.08 is the legal limit set for a drunk driving conviction. This means that .08 of the percentage of our blood contains alcohol. In reality, the human body is effected by alcohol at much smaller dosages. Research has shown that at .02%, a person is 2x as likely to be involved in a drunk driving accident than those who are not drinking at all. This is approximately 2 drinks in 2 hours for a person weighing about 150lbs.
The risk of being in a crash rises gradually with each BAC level, but then rises very rapidly after a driver reaches or exceeds .08 BAC compared to drivers with no alcohol in their system. Research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that the relative risk of being killed in a single vehicle crash for drivers at BACs between .05 and .09 is 11 times that of drivers with no alcohol in their system. Some of the effects of low dosages of alcohol include inhibited judgment and impaired fine muscle coordination.
Follow up reports showed that a very small number (150) of the 39,000 breathalyzer tests performed in the Commonwealth may have been inaccurate due to operator error. There were no major problems found with the machines themselves.
Information from the Center for Disease Control:
• In 2012, 10,322 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (31%) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.1
• Of the 1,168 traffic deaths among children ages 0 to 14 years in 2012, 239 (20%) involved an alcohol-impaired driver.1
• Of the 239 child passengers ages 14 and younger who died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2012, over half (124) were riding in the vehicle with the alcohol-impaired driver.1
• In 2010, over 1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.3 That’s one percent of the 112 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year.4