As a general rule, is it a good idea to refuse a breath test if you ever find yourself pulled over?

This is a question that we get asked frequently, and the answer really depends on you, how much you have had to drink, and whether you have a prior DUI. The main reason to refuse the test is that the breath test results often form the crux of the state’s DUI case against you. A breath test that indicates a BAC greater than .08 makes a difficult case to defend that much harder. Then again – in Idaho – if you refuse the test you will lose your driving privileges for a year – absolutely no driving at all. And that loss (through the Idaho Department of Transportation) results from the refusal, whether you win the trial or not.

Some people think they can avoid this trap by purchasing pocket breathalyzers. These devices, ranging from $10 to $300, are advertised as means of allowing you to test yourself before driving home.

Recently, one news organization put one such breathalyzer, the BACTrack S80, to the test. The $150 device is advertised as providing “professional accuracy at an affordable price.” The organization conducted a controlled experiment to determine just how accurately the device measured a person’s BAC. The test also served as a training exercise for officers to help them recognize signs of an impaired driver.

Four women and one man where served measured amounts of alcohol designed to bring their BAC close to the .08 legal limit. The participants self-assessed the amounts of alcohol served, guessing that they were given the equivalent of two or three drinks apiece. After each round of drinks, the participants were asked to blow into both the police breath test device and the BACTrack S80. Almost every time, the BACTrack S80 device had a lower number than the police authorized device. Moreover, the BACTrack S80 consistently registered lower blood alcohol levels than police breathalyzer device.

This difference was most pronounced after the first round of drinks, which could lead to a false sense of security. Believing that his BAC is lower than it really is, a person may choose to drink more than otherwise planned, causing him to be more intoxicated than he intended or believes himself to be.  Or, given the false sense of security of having a low breathalyzer number, he may decide to drive despite actually being impaired.

One of the officers who helped conduct the test stressed that the number itself was not important. The number is more a proxy of impaired driving rather than proof of impaired driving. Officers look first for actions such as inability to maintain a driving lane as proof of intoxication. If a person is caught driving in a manner that indicates he’s impaired, he will get pulled over.

Two of the volunteers, women in their late twenties and early thirties, were demonstrating signs of impairment after two rounds of drinks. One woman had trouble walking in a straight line while the other could not maintain a sense of balance. Both women’s breath tests indicated that their BACs were under the legal limit (.071 and .079 respectively).  However, the training officers indicated that they would have arrested both women despite the fact that they “passed” the breath test.

Headed to trial? Got a case that you want to talk about? Call our experienced Idaho criminal defense lawyers today at (208) 342-4633.