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WSP to Switch Breath Testing Machines

Posted Friday, December 21, 2012 by Andrew Charles Huff

There is currently only one evidentiary breath test instrument approved for use in the State of Washington by law enforcement…the BAC DataMaster, manufactured by National Patent Analytical Systems located in Mansfield Ohio. These devices are used to test those arrested for Driving Under the Influence of their blood-alcohol amount to determine whether they are .08 or above, the legal limit in Washington.
However, the Washington State Patrol recently announced they will be switching to an entirely new breath testing instrument, replacing the DataMaster. This new instrument is the Alcotest 9510, manufactured by a German company Dräger or “The Draeger,” as it will be known here.The State Patrol has already purchased 67 of the machines and Draeger is currently developing software to meet WSP’s requirements and to comply with RCW 46.61.506. This statute provides the minimum foundational requirements for a breath test reading to be admitted in court. Each of these machines cost $10,000 each and 253 will be needed, costing the State approximately $3.2 million to just replace these machines. Say nothing of the additional work hour costs needed to implement this changeover, although the amount is still unknown at this point. Legal challenges will most likely occur on both compliance and accuracy issues and if the device is approved for use, thousands of law enforcement officers will have to be trained, as well as prosecutors and judges.

So what’s different about the Alcotest? To be honest, almost everything. For example, instead of using only infrared spectroscopy, this new machine also uses electrochemical analysis (EC). It essentially marries the IR technology of the DataMaster with the EC technology of a Portable Breath Test unit. However, the problem is when you combine two different technologies it doesn’t always work out in the end, like trying to put a diesel and a gas engine in the same automobile. Draeger appears to use a software fix to “solve” some of the problems associated with combining the two technologies, but this method essentially makes the EC analysis useless and negates the alleged benefits of Draeger’s promoted…dual alcohol sensor technology. Based on the high costs ahead and the high potential of legal challenges, it could be a rough road ahead as the State attempts to embrace a new technology in breath testing. Stay tuned.

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