The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) recently launched a “spirited” defense of the Intoxilyzer 8000 machine – the machine it uses to test the blood alcohol content of suspected drunk drivers. Since theIntoxilyzer was put into service in 2005, it has been a subject of ridicule and attack among defense attorneys in several Florida counties who have claimed that it is an inaccurate means of measuring blood alcohol content.
In an attempt to prove that the machine is reliable and accurate, the FDLE decided to test it out by paying some of its employees to get drunk while on the job. On an October day, the FDLE provided whisky and other liquor- at taxpayers’ expense – and had 15 employees drink while on the clock.
After the participants had become sufficiently intoxicated, they blew into three different Intoxilyzers: one calibrated to provide an accurate measurement of breath volume, one set to measure too little breath and one set to measure too much. Cameras recorded the results.
The participants’ blood was then drawn and sent to a lab for comparison. Two months later, an alcohol-testing expert from the FDLE presented the results of the experiment to a panel of judges from Sarasota and Manatee counties, and asserted that the test proves that the machines are accurate.
Results of Experiment Questioned
The judges were skeptical of the results of the experiment, partially because the results of the blood tests of the participants were conspicuously absent from the presentation and other results presented were not finalized.
Statistical experts agreed, saying that the experiment may not be scientifically valid, as it was only performed one time on a small group of people.
Use of Intoxilyzer Controversial
The controversy surrounding the machines started in 2005, when certain machines reported that some drivers have blown 10-12 liters of air into the machine. This measurement is impossible, as a typical person’s lung capacity is only about five liters.
Breath volume is important to achieve an accurate result, as an insufficient amount of breath can cause the machine to register artificially high blood alcohol content. Since FDLE rules do not require that breath volume measurements be calibrated, this calls into question the accuracy of the machines.
The fears of inaccuracy may be legitimate. An expert found that drivers tested on these particular machines that are not properly calibrated were four times more likely to register a blood alcohol content of 0.25 – three times the legal limit.
The panel of judges is awaiting final results before it decides if the Intoxilyzer will continue to be used in Manatee and Sarasota counties.