A portable or preliminary breath test device, commonly referred to as a PBT, is a handheld machine that motorists are often asked to blow into on the side of the road. It is a screening device that is fraught with many pitfalls. Your Utah DUI attorney should know the dangers these devices pose when prosecutors use them to convince the Court that you were impaired. Handheld machines to do not have safeguards or maintenance procedures like desktop models. They are prone to a high error rate. These machines typically function by measuring a chemical reaction of alcohol in a fuel cell. These fuel cell alcohol detectors are highly susceptible to a variety of errors that can cause them to produce incorrect BAC results. Things such as mouth alcohol, contamination, interfering substances, the temperature of the machine, the outside air temperature, when you last consumed alcohol, medical conditions such as acid reflux, lack of observation period, and many other factors will affect the validity of the PBT test results. Generally, the police are not allowed to testify that a PBT gave a specific alcohol reading. Instead, they are typically allowed to testify that the PBT results indicated the presence of alcohol. Utah courts have ruled that PBT devices are scientifically unreliable beyond detecting the presence of alcohol. PBT results are never admissible at trial. You are not required under Utah DUI law to blow into the PBT device when you are being investigated for a Utah DUI. Your refusal will not result in the suspension of your driver’s license. The PBT is essentially another form of field sobriety testing. It can only be used to establish probable cause for your arrest.
Difference Between A Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) and The Evidential Breathalyzer Test
Both testing devices are subject to a high rate of error. An “evidential” breath test device is typically a larger desktop machine that is kept at the police station. The primary difference between a portable, handheld device and a desktop evidential system comes down to maintenance, trustworthiness, reliability, and software. the PBT essentially has none of the safeguards in place like the evidential breath test device. While the PBT device is fuel cell driven (very slow), the newer desktop devices give readings while the subject is blowing into the device. One of the key differences is that desktop machines are set up to prevent mouth alcohol and other contaminants from getting into your system; no such protection is built into PBT devices.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
Knowing how long alcohol (ethanol) remains in your system is important for avoiding dangerous interactions with medications as well as impairments in your physical and mental performance. While alcohol is not considered a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), it is illegal to sell or serve to anyone under the age of 21 in the Utah. The metabolism of alcohol has been studied in detail, but there are many individual factors that determine how long it can be detected in your body and how long it will take to be eliminated. Depending on the type of test used as well as your age, body mass, genetics, sex, and overall health, alcohol can remain detectable in your system from 10 hours to 90 days. When misused, alcohol can do as much (or even more) overall harm as many illegal drugs. People who misuse alcohol also risk developing physical and psychological dependence and alcohol use disorder.
How Long Does It Take to Feel Effects?
You can start to feel the effects of alcohol in a matter of minutes. When ingested, alcohol is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into your bloodstream before it travels to the nervous system (brain and spinal cord). As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol impairs the communication of messages in your brain, altering your perceptions, emotions, movement, and senses. In small amounts, you might feel more relaxed and open or less anxious, but the more you drink, the more intoxicated you’ll begin to feel. For some, this can mean being more talkative or very friendly and others may begin to behave with anger or aggression.
Other signs of alcohol intoxication include:
• Loss of inhibitions
• Impaired walking (ataxia)
• Losing coordination
• Slurred speech
• Slowed reaction time
• Poor judgment (such as driving under the influence or engaging in unprotected sex)
How Long Does Alcohol Last?
The half-life of ethanol is about 4 to 5 hours, which means it takes that long to eliminate half of the alcohol ingested from the bloodstream. For most people, alcohol is absorbed into the system more rapidly than it is metabolized. For a person weighing 150 pounds, for example, one standard drink will increase their blood-alcohol concentration by about 0.02%,1 but the body can only remove about 0.016% per hour on average. Therefore, even if you consume only one drink per hour, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will continue to increase. If you drink more than one per hour, it rises much more rapidly. The body metabolizes alcohol by oxidizing the ethanol to acetaldehyde. The acetaldehyde is broken down into acetic acid and then to carbon dioxide and water. Most of the alcohol you consume is metabolized in the liver, but about 5% of the alcohol you drink is excreted by the body through sweat, breath, urine, feces, and saliva. Determining exactly how long alcohol is detectable in the body depends on many variables, including which kind of drug test is being used. Alcohol can be detected for a shorter time with some tests but can be visible for up to three months in others.
The following is an estimated range of times, or detection windows, during which alcohol can be detected by various testing methods.
• Breath: Alcohol can be detected in your breath via a breathalyzer test for up to 24 hours.
• Urine: Alcohol can be detected in urine for three to five days via ethyl glucuronide (EtG) metabolite or 10 to 12 hours via the traditional method.
• Blood: Alcohol can show up in a blood test for up to 12 hours.
• Saliva: A saliva test can be positive for alcohol from 24 to 48 hours.
• Hair: Like many other drugs, alcohol can be detected with a hair follicle drug test for up to 90 days.
The EtG test can produce a positive test from the mere exposure to alcohol that’s present in many daily household products such as cooking extract, mouth wash, cleaning products, cosmetics, and hair dye. As such, it’s a less reliable test for alcohol consumption. If you take a breath or saliva test shortly after using alcohol-containing mouthwash or cough medicine, it may detect the residue of the alcohol in your mouth and create a false positive as well.
Factors That Affect Detection Time
The timetable for detecting alcohol in the body is also dependent upon variables such as metabolism, body mass, age, hydration level, physical activity, health conditions, and other factors, making it almost impossible to determine an exact time alcohol will show up on a drug test. Some of those factors include the following.
Just as family history plays a role in the development of an alcohol use disorder, how quickly the body processes and excretes alcohol also has a genetic link.
Since women tend to have proportionally more body fat and less body water than men, alcohol tends to linger in their systems longer than men.
Again, the more fat you have, the longer the alcohol will stay in your body.
Studies have found that people of East Asian descent are more likely to have trouble metabolizing alcohol since they don’t produce enough of a key enzyme that helps metabolize alcohol in the liver. Instead, a toxic byproduct of alcohol builds up in the blood and liver, dilates blood vessels, and causes flushing (redness and heat) in the face and neck as well as headaches, dizziness, palpitations, and nausea. This reaction is known colloquially as “Asian flush” or “Asian glow.”
As you get older, your liver works more slowly, so it takes longer to excrete alcohol. Many aging adults also take medication that can affect liver function, slowing the process further.
Roughly 20% of the ethanol in liquor is absorbed into the blood from the stomach and the rest from the small intestine. The longer alcohol stays in the stomach, the longer it takes to be absorbed and the slower the rate of intoxication. Eating before drinking, and continuing to snack while you consume alcohol, will slow the absorption and reduce its impact, but prolong the detection period.
Certain medications can interfere with how alcohol is absorbed in the body and some may even enhance the effects and increase intoxication. Always be honest with your healthcare provider about how much alcohol you consume. Medications known to interact with alcohol include:
• Anti-anxiety medications
• Allergy medications
• Diabetes medications
How frequently and how fast you drink, as well as the alcohol content in your beverage, can all influence how long ethanol stays in your system. For example, if you engage in binge drinking five or more drinks for men or four for women during a single drinking session it can take many hours for the alcohol to completely clear from your system. It is possible for your system to still have enough alcohol in it the next morning that you could fail a urine or blood test for driving under the influence. You would definitely have a problem trying to pass a test that is designed to detect the presence of any alcohol.
How to Get Alcohol Out of Your System
Regardless of how fast your body absorbs alcohol, it eliminates it at the average rate of 0.016 BAC per hour. Nothing you do will speed up the elimination process, including drinking coffee, drinking water, taking a shower, or even vomiting. If you know that you are going to have to take a breath, blood, or urine test for the presence of alcohol in your system, the only way you can lower your blood alcohol content results is to delay taking the test as long as possible after your last drink, because only time will reduce your BAC.
Symptoms of Overdose
Consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time can result in alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, averages of six people per day die of acute alcohol poisoning. Drinking too much alcohol, or combining alcohol with other drugs or medication, can cause the areas of your brain that support your breathing, heart rate, and other basic life-supporting functions to begin to shut down.
• Extreme sleepiness or loss of consciousness
• Slow heart rate
• No gag reflex, which prevents choking when vomiting
• Clammy pale, or blue-tinged skin
• Low body temperature (hypothermia)
• Breathing slowly or irregularly (less than eight times a minute or 10 seconds or more between any two breaths)
• Vomiting while unconscious (doesn’t wake up during or after vomiting)
Are Breathalyzer Tests Always Accurate?
When an officer suspects a driver is intoxicated, they need probable cause to believe they were driving under the influence (DUI) in order to make an arrest. A common way officers try to obtain probable cause is by conducting a breath test using a device known as a Breathalyzer. If the Breathalyzer indicates a driver has blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher, the officer can automatically use that reading as probable cause for an arrest. In addition, the prosecutor can use the Breathalyzer results to prove that a driver was intoxicated, as 0.08 is the legal limit for DUI per se. Considering the importance of the Breathalyzer results in many DUI cases, you would imagine that the devices should always be accurate and reliable, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case, as there are many factors that can cause an inaccurate Breathalyzer result and, in many cases, a wrongful conviction if the prosecutor uses the inaccurate reading as evidence in a criminal case. It is critical to have a DUI defense lawyer who knows how to challenge Breathalyzer results when appropriate.
Reasons for Breathalyzer Errors
Like most scientific tests, Breathalyzers have an inherent margin of error. This means that even in the ideal circumstances, the result of the breath test still might not be perfectly right. Many Breathalyzer devices have a margin of error of 0.01 percentage points. This means that if a reading is 0.08 percent on the nose, your true BAC could be anywhere between 0.07 percent and 0.09 percent. Authorities should always consider this margin of error when using evidence of a breath test reading in a DUI case. Inadequate Calibration
Breathalyzer devices require regular calibration. This is usually done by a police lab technician who runs a particular solution with a certain concentration of alcohol through the device. They then tune the device to match the exact concentration of the solution. Some states require that officers calibrate the devices at certain intervals, such as every 150 uses or every 10 days. Other states do not have specific requirements. If a police department fails to properly calibrate devices or even calibrate them at all highly inaccurate readings can result.
A Suspect’s Mouth Alcohol
A Breathalyzer measures the alcohol vapor from your lungs, also known as mouth alcohol. In some situations, alcohol from your stomach or that is lingering in your mouth can accidentally be measured by the device. This is especially true if someone vomits or burps a short time before being tested. The mouth alcohol has not yet been introduced into the bloodstream and has not had intoxicating effects on the driver, so it can artificially increase the BAC reading.
Contaminated Breath Samples
For a completely accurate result, the Breathalyzer should only measure the driver’s breath sample. However, fumes or vapors in the atmosphere or even the mouth alcohol of the person who previously submitted a sample into the device may taint the sample. Police officers should always replace the mouthpiece of the Breathalyzer between tests—both for accuracy and sanitation purposes. They should also shoot something called an air blank through the tube of the device to clear out any fumes or vapors that may be lingering in the sample chamber.
Interference by Radio Frequency
Another factor that can affect the accuracy of a Breathalyzer is radio frequency interference, or RFI. A police radio can emit electromagnetic waves, which can cause malfunctions in the Breathalyzer. Some devices have RFI detectors, and will cancel tests that are in progress in the presence of interference. Again, not all Breathalyzers are so equipped, and RFI can lead to false results and wrongful convictions.
Types of Breath Tests
Breathalyzer tests can be broadly grouped into different categories including:
• Passive Breathalyzers: Passive alcohol sensors (PAS) or passive breathalyzers may be attached to a law enforcement officer’s clipboard or flashlight. This type of test has internal fuel sensors that are designed to detect the presence of alcohol when a motorist exhales. A driver does not actively blow into a passive breathalyzer and this test is considered a preliminary test that can provide a police officer with cause to investigate the motorist more closely and perform other sobriety testing. Passive breathalyzers are not generally used as evidence in a court of law.
• Active Breathalyzers: Active breathalyzers require a driver to blow into a mouthpiece to determine his or her BAC. There are two distinct types of active breathalyzer devices: preliminary breath tests (PBTs) and evidential breath test machines. Both PBTs and evidential breath tests used by law enforcement officers generally utilize different technology than personal active breathalyzer machines that individuals purchase. Breath test machines utilized by individuals generally rely on semiconductor sensors, which less reliable than fuel cell technology or infrared technology used in professional tests.
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