In November the Washington State Patrol unveiled the Draeger Alcotest 9510 breath test machine. The Patrol received legislative approval in 2010 to switch to these machines, and has been working hard to make sure that the new instruments would fit into our state’s DUI program. The Patrol believes the instruments are ready to win the confidence of juries who will rely on them in court.
Use of the breath test machine by law enforcement first took place in Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Skagit and Snohomish counties. Deployment continued in Southeast Washington in Kittitas, Yakima, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, and Asotin counties. Approximately 83 Draeger Alcotest breath test machines have been put into service in Washington as of this month. This breath test machine will continue to replace the Datamaster over time. Within a few years the Datamaster machines, which have been the primary tool Seattle Police Department, Washington State Patrol, and other police agencies in Washington State have used to catch drunk and intoxicated drivers, will be completely replaced by this newer, arguably superior breath test machine.
The DataMaster has been used in Washington State since the 1980s for breath tests. But law enforcement has a problem… the DataMaster is no longer being manufactured. At this point, getting replacement parts for the antiquated machines is difficult. Those machines have had many issues and challenges in the time they have been used by law enforcement agencies. Seattle Police Department still uses the DataMaster.
The Draeger 9510 breath test machine costs about $10,000 per unit, and the State plans to eventually deploy hundreds of these machines in all counties of the state including King, Snohomish and Kitsap. Draeger describes the machine as “the most advanced Evidential Breath-Alcohol Testing instrument exceeding all national and international program requirements.”
It analyzes breath alcohol by using two independent technologies: infrared spectroscopy and electrochemical cell technology. The other thing that sets it apart most from the DataMaster is that it uses a dry gas standard instead of a liquid solution to verify that the instrument works properly. For years, liquid solutions have had to be mixed locally, monitored for temperature, and checked regularly. The Draeger’s dry gas contains a known concentration of alcohol, allowing the instrument to verify that a suspect’s breath alcohol is being measured accurately every time without involving an outside person to maintain the instrument.
“The Draeger instrument will produce the same accurate results as our previous instrument, but with far less maintenance,” said Lieutenant Rob Sharpe, commander of the Patrol’s Impaired Driving Section. “They are also easier for officers to operate, and help speed the processing of DUI suspects.”
The DataMaster breath test machine analyzes breath alcohol content with the help of infrared spectroscopy. Tickets are printed which show the results of two “blows” (exhaled breaths). The Draeger 9510 will effectively double the breath test results, arguably making them more than twice as reliable in the eyes of State and municipal prosecutors and city attorneys.
A complete breath test with this new machine requires the driver to blow twice into the machine. The breath test machine will then produce two measurements per blow (one by infrared spectroscopy, one by electrochemical cell technology). So the Draeger’s breath-test ticket will display a total of four readings instead of the two blows currently created by the DataMaster. That factor will arguably make DUI defense attorneys tasked with the job of challenging the reliability of a breath test face “double” the uphill battle.
That being said, there likely will be problems with this new device. The DataMaster breath test machine, still used in Washington, had many problems when they were first introduced in Washington and have problems up to today, reducing in some DUI charges being dismissed or reduced when competent defense counsel was retained.
With the implementation of a new breath test machine comes new issues as to its reliability and accuracy, creating a tough job for competent defense counsel. Miller Law Group LLC is prepared to help those accused of driving under the influence (DUI) to get the best results possible.
As an aside… in 2013, 440 people were killed in traffic collisions in Washington. Of those deaths, 188 involved a driver who was impaired. Washington’s Strategic Highway Patrol has a Safety Plan called “Target Zero”. It aims to completely eliminate all traffic fatalities by the year 2030.