You have a couple of drinks after work and are confident that you are not impaired and get behind the wheel. Police stop you in Nassau County. You fail a breath test. 

You may feel like the machine has spoken and, in effect, convicted you. Court is a formality. You feel doomed. 

You are wrong. 

Do not trust machines 

A New York Times investigation found that breath machines can be faulty. In some cases, readings are as much as 40 percent too high. The result? Criminal records for sober motorists. 

Programming mistakes are common in the software of some machines. A New Jersey study found “thousands of programming errors.” 

In other cases: 

  • A Pennsylvania judge called the reliability of its machines “extremely questionable.” 
  • A Florida panel said its machine produced “significant and continued anomalies.” 
  • A Vermont report found inaccurate results on “almost every test.” 

Do not trust humans 

The delicate pieces of equipment need constant and delicate calibrations. Law enforcement agencies often lack the expertise or willingness to maintain the machines. One prosecutor failed to alert 700 convicted drunken drivers about incorrect test results. 

Law enforcement agencies sometimes disable safeguards. They make changes to machines that affect quality control. In other cases, agencies used outdated chemicals in testing or faked calibration reports. In one Massachusetts case, officers used a machine that had rats nesting inside. 

Trust your rights 

You are not alone if you suspect that something went awry with your breath test. In one year, Massachusetts and New Jersey judges threw out 30,000 breath tests. They cited human errors and poor oversight. 

The presence of toothpaste, mouthwash, breath mints and hand sanitizer fools the machines. A simple burp during a breath test can impact the results. 

Under state law, you face fines or jail time. You could lose your license, and your insurance rates could increase. The stakes are too high, so protect your rights. Challenge your drunken driving charge.