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The Florida Bar

Alcohol Testing Accuracy

The accuracy of breathalyzer machines has been hotly disputed since states began to use them in the 1930s, according to Fort Lauderdale DUI Lawyer William R. Moore. Numerous factors can cause false positives or otherwise affect results, such as:

  • diabetes
  • acid reflux disease
  • cigarette smoking
  • eating bread
  • mouth alcohol
  • breathing pattern or hyperventilation
  • other reasons

Breath testing is not the most reliable method of evaluating the amount of alcohol in someone’s body at a given time. It also does not measure for any other factor or substance that could cause impairment, such as Xanax or other prescriptions, or illegal drugs, says Broward DUI Lawyer William Moore. States have coped with the issue of reliability in different ways. In some states, law enforcement officers routinely carry handheld breath alcohol screening devices, which may give the police probable cause to arrest a DUI suspect if the driver has a positive test result. In most cases, these results are not admissible in court because they are not sufficiently reliable. Florida is not one of the states that uses handheld breathalyzers.

Urine testing is often used by law enforcement when they believe that the suspect may be driving under the influence of substances other than alcohol. Urinalysis can screen for common prescription and illegal drugs. For instance, a the police might determine that a person appears to have been drinking, but after he blows a 0.03, they conclude that his apparent level of intoxication is higher than would be expected from such a relatively low breath test. They may therefore request urinalsysis, which shows that he also has prescription pain medication in his system. Since urinalysis does not quantify the amount of a substance in a person’s system, its usefulness is limited: the state may not be able to prove that the person’s prescription medication was at a high enough level to cause impairment.

South Dakota uses blood testing only due to its higher level of accuracy and reliability. Blood testing often results in delays, as the police must transport the subject to a location where blood can be drawn. Nonetheless, it provides a more accurate picture of the amount of alcohol in the person’s systems, as well as other substances, because a blood test will quantify other drugs. Therefore, a blood test will show whether prescription drugs were taken at a therapeutic level or a higher dosage.

Drivers in the state of Florida do not have their choice of which test to submit to. Although the first refusal to submit to a test is not a crime, it can result in administrative penalties. Operating a motor vehicle in the state of Florida means that a person has consented (via implied consent) to submission to testing.

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