The chemical breath test has been a staple of alcohol-related police stops for years. While it's colloquially known as the Breathalyzer test, Breathalyzer is actually the name of one of the companies that produces the tests. Think of it like Kleenex. There are plenty of tissue companies out there, but Kleenex has almost taken over as the unofficial name for disposable soft tissues.
The idea of the test is simple, you blow into a straw on the machine and it reads out the alcohol content in your breath. If it's over a certain limit, the driver is arrested for a DWI and that reading can be used as evidence in a court case.
The BAC level for every state is .08%, but that isn't the only level at which charges can be brought. Here in NY, we also have DWAI. We've gone over the differences between DWI and DWAI in the past, so the quick version is that DWAI is for BAC levels between .05 and .07%. DWAI is a lesser charge, especially for the first offense.
But that brings us to the question up top: How accurate is the breathalyzer test? The margin for error for these tests is around .01%. In cases where the BAC is just over the limit, it is exceedingly difficult for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you're over the limit.
Breath tests are also kind of tricky in that other tests are far more accurate, namely urine and blood tests. Those tests are more expensive and see less use as a result. Breathalyzers are relatively reliable, cheap, and easy to use.
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