The Washington State Patrol has announced that they will be replacing the current breath test machine used by law enforcement – the DataMaster – with the Dräger Alcotest 9510. The new machines are smaller, sleeker, and feature Microsoft software that processes information faster. The Alcotest 9510 machines will be used to test blood alcohol content to determine if drivers are under the influence.
The State patrol will initially place 83 of the new machines in police and sheriff's stations, jails, and State Patrol divisions in northeast and southeast Washington. The Alcotest 9510 machines will then be implemented statewide over the next few years.
The search for a new breath test machine began roughly five years ago when officials learned that the DataMaster machines, which have been used since the 1980s, would no longer be manufactured. After looking at four different breath test machines, the State Patrol eventually decided on the Alcotest 9510, which costs $9,500 per unit. According to a representative for Dräger, the Alcotest 9510 machines are already in use by law enforcement in New York, Connecticut, California, and Washington, DC.
The Alcotest 9510 boasts a digital touch screen and links to the internet, which allows officers to send real-time information. The machine gives instructions on when to blow and informs the user whether the sample was captured successfully. The results of the breath test are then calculated within a matter of minutes.
Unlike breath test machines of the past, the Alcotest 9510 uses a dry gas standard, rather than a liquid solution, to verify that the machine is working properly. The Alcotest 9510 utilizes a dry gas that contains a known concentration of alcohol, which enables the machine to verify that the suspect's breath alcohol is being measured accurately and reliably.
Only police officers, troopers, and sheriff's deputies who are certified in the Alcotest 9510 will be allowed to operate the new machines. Law enforcement will continue using DataMaster breath machines to test suspected drunk drivers until the state replaces them all with Alcotest 9510 machines. Law enforcement officers say that the old technology is still accurate and precise.
Critiques Call for More Accurate Machines
In the past the State Patrol has been criticized for using DataMaster machines and for their DUI protocols. In 2008, three District Court judges from King County issued a damaging 29-page ruling that stated that the lab of participated in "fraudulent and scientifically unacceptable" practices that compromised breath test results that were used to prosecute suspected drunk drivers.
The panel of judges found a "multiplicity of errors", including issues with the way the breath test machines were calibrated and the way that the lab analyzed and verified breath test results. These errors affected thousands of DUI cases over the last few years. State officials still insist that the issues were the result of human errors, not problems with the DataMaster machines.
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