Missoula County bars start selling ‘breathalyzers’ — could they be evidence of DUI?

| Feb 25, 2021 | Criminal Law |

A new effort to prevent drinking and driving in Missoula County raises interesting questions about DUI breath tests and their accuracy. Several bars in the county will soon start selling devices to customers that will supposedly let them test their blood-alcohol content (BAL).

According to KULR, the devices are the size and shape of a small pencil and have a tube attached to one end. The user blows into the tube for ten seconds. The device starts out white. The manufacturer says that if there is alcohol in the user’s system, the device will turn one of three shades of red, corresponding to three BAL levels: .02 percent, .05 percent and .08 percent.

The idea is that people at a bar or restaurant can buy one of these devices to test whether they are safe to drive. In theory, this is a good idea. The devices cost $2, which is a much lower price than a DUI conviction can cost in Montana. But there are at least two potential issues in our eyes.

Questions we have about the $2 breathalyzers

For one thing, the device’s manufacturer admits that it only detects four levels of BAC. It cannot possibly give a truly accurate reading of how much alcohol is in your system. The breath test machines that the police use must be recalibrated and the officers receive training on how to use them accurately. What would happen if a bar patron buys one of these devices, blows a .05 percent, drives away and is arrested for DUI?

Also, could prosecutors seize a used device and use it as evidence in a DUI case? If so, will bars and restaurants have to warn patrons of that fact before they try to sell them the devices?

We will have to see what happens as nine establishments in Missoula County, as well as another nine in Gallatin County, begin selling them.