The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), in conjunction with a variety of auto manufacturers, has formed the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety Program (DADSS). This partnership’s goal is to reduce the number of drunk driving fatalities across the nation by installing sensors in vehicles that measure the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels of drivers, disabling the vehicle if a driver is legally intoxicated.
These sensors, which work through touch or breath, are currently in development, and the announcement has been met with both positivity and criticism. Per the DADSS:
The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) research program is supported by safety and children’s advocates, insurance companies, state and local government representatives and members of the alcohol industry – who all agree that technology can be the answer to the persistent problem of drunk driving.
However, per CarScoops, “From an enthusiast’s perspective, it seems like a no-brainer that taking impaired people off of the roads is only a good thing. Of course, no technology works 100% of the time so surely, at times, perfectly sober people would end up with a paperweight instead of a car at times.”
While we applaud efforts to reduce intoxicated drivers on the roadway, the use of such imperfect sensors will likely instead provide difficulties for innocent drives. Although we understand that drunk driving is a crime here in Tennessee and across the country, we are still innocent until proven guilty. We have concerns that date from these machines may be shared with law enforcement, resulting in arrest of people who are sober. Further, these systems have nothing to do with the ignition interlocking systems mandatory for DUI and DWI repeat offenders – they would go in any vehicle and create the same burden on the innocent as DUI offenders.
Why alcohol detection systems can fail
According to the DADSS program, the detection system would work in one of two ways:
- A breath system, which measures alcohol as a driver breathes normally, when in the driver’s seat. It will be designed to take instantaneous readings as the driver breathes normally and to accurately and reliably distinguish between the driver’s breath and that of any passengers.
- A touch-based system, which measures blood alcohol levels under the skin’s surface by shining an infrared-light through the fingertip of the driver. It will be integrated into current vehicle controls, such as the start button or steering wheel, and take multiple, accurate readings.
All of this may sound like a good idea in theory, but nothing is infallible – especially machines. In our practice we regularly find issues with the administration of breath testing devices. Further, we already know that cars and auto parts are recalled all the time, and these systems are just another potential defective product to add to the list.
A 2019 investigative piece from the New York Times reported on the unreliability of alcohol breath tests. The article states:
Judges in Massachusetts and New Jersey have thrown out more than 30,000 breath tests in the past 12 months alone, largely because of human errors and lax governmental oversight. Across the country, thousands of other tests also have been invalidated in recent years.
The machines are sensitive scientific instruments, and in many cases they haven’t been properly calibrated, yielding results that were at times 40 percent too high. Maintaining machines is up to police departments that sometimes have shoddy standards and lack expertise. In some cities, lab officials have used stale or home-brewed chemical solutions that warped results. In Massachusetts, officers used a machine with rats nesting inside.
They also note that hundreds of drivers are never notified of discovery of incorrect results. Further, breath tests can also yield faulty results. For example, mouthwash and toothpaste can alter the results of a breath test – and so can hand sanitizer. And, although results from these types of machines can’t be used in court against you, per the New York Times, “they often trigger an arrest, which leads to a test on another machine at the police station. That result determines whether someone is charged — and, often, whether they’re convicted.”
Should I hire a Sevierville DUI defense lawyer if I fail a breath test?
If you have already consented to a breath test and you fail, then you need a Sevierville criminal defense attorney on your side. Your lawyer may argue that the breath test evidence should be suppressed or thrown out entirely because:
- The operator made an error in administering the test.
- The machine was improperly maintained and/or calibrated, leading to inaccurate results.
- The roadside test and test at the station had wildly different results, meaning they should be deemed inaccurate or inconclusive.
- You have a medical condition that would skew the result of the test.
- The stop was illegal.
The defenses we apply are determined by the exact nature of your case, which is why we encourage you to talk with us as soon as possible.
What are the penalties for a DUI in Tennessee?
A conviction for DUI here in Tennessee could result in penalties including:
- Loss of driver’s license
- Jail or prison time
- Mandatory alcohol and drug treatment program
- Restitution to any person suffering physical injury or loss
- Monetary fines
- License reinstatement fee
- Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device
- Vehicle seizure
- Permanent criminal record (for federal charges)
And these are just the penalties under the law. A DUI conviction can make it a challenge to get to work (if you are denied a restricted license), which in turn can make it difficult to pay your bills, fines, child support, or more. If it is a felony DUI conviction, you could lose your professional license or your right to carry a firearm.
If you are arrested and charged with drunk driving, don’t try to go through the process alone. The stakes are too high. Our attorneys are prepared to defend your case if you were arrested for DUI or DWI. We understand how to challenge the results of a breath test and ensure your rights were not violated along the way.
To make an appointment with an experienced DUI attorney from Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, please call 865-428-8780, or fill out our contact form today. We represent clients and families in Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge, and throughout the Tri-Cities area.
Attorney Bryan E. Delius was born and raised in Sevier County, TN. He founded Delius & McKenzie more than 20 years ago, after receiving his JD from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He is admitted in Tennessee and in several federal court systems. Learn more about Bryan E. Delius.