In 1931, the “Drunkometer” became the first roadside breath-testing device. Developed by Rolla Neil Harger of the Indiana University School of Medicine. Manufactured and sold by the Stephenson Corporation, the machine had motorists suspected of drunk driving blow into a balloon inside the machine. From there, it pumps through a solution. If alcohol was detected, the solution changed color.
Today’s more modern breath devices that use cutting-edge technology can detect alcohol for up to 24 hours, depending on the individual undergoing the test and the amount of alcohol consumed. Still, they remain a source of controversy and dispute as to their accuracy and effectiveness.
The U.S. government-approved several different devices for official use must meet specific criteria for law enforcement to use:
- Print three identical results from each test
- Designate a unique number printed on each test
- Distinguish acetone from actual alcohol
Passing the test requires the individual undergoing the exam to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of less than 0.08 percent.
Additional outside considerations can play a role in the unreliability of a test. Potential errors that occur can result in a false positive and include:
- The age-old “human error” where the administration of the test was done with little if any, attention to all the details
- Foreign substances that include mouthwash, breath fresheners, and medicines that contain alcohol
- A lack of calibration and battery replacement can skew results
- Modern-day technology, specifically the software where results are dependent on operating systems functioning properly and without glitches
- Accuracy requires multiple breath tests to produce a remotely reliable result
While breath testing devices have been around for decades, critics see it as a continuing “work in progress,” particularly when it comes to accurate results.