D.C. Brings Back Breathalyzers to Combat Impaired Driving

The District of Columbia will resume its Breath Alcohol Testing Program on Friday, Sept. 28., after it was paused two years ago. Under the new program, a trained Metropolitan Police Department operator will administer tests to measure breath alcohol content when processing an arrest for impaired driving offenses.

“Ensuring we are doing everything possible to protect public safety is a priority for this administration,” Mayor Vincent Gray said Sept. 26 in a joint statement with the Metropolitan Police Department, the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of Chief Medical Examiner. Gray added that a $150,000 grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration helped to bring back the program.

The MPD suspended the breath alcohol program in 2010 because incorrectly calibrated machines were found to be giving false readings. D.C. police then worked with the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to develop new software for Intoximeter Instruments. During the 20-month development process there was continued reliance on urine tests and vigorous prosecution for impaired driving. Standard field sobriety tests will still be conducted at the scene and urine-testing equipment will remain available at all patrol districts.

The District began to get tougher on drivers impaired by alcohol and drugs with the Comprehensive Impaired Driving Act of 2012. Under the new act, maximum incarceration periods and fines will increase. Among these increases are that first time offenders could be jailed up to 180 days and fined up to $1,000. Convicted first-time offenders with a blood alcohol concentration of .20 percent or higher, or repeat DUI offenders, have a mandatory minimum 10-day jail time.

Offenders with a minor child in the vehicle face a minimum five-day jail sentence for each child in a required child-restraint seat and 10 days if they are not. Blood alcohol limits for commercial vehicle operators, including those for hire are set at .04 percent. These drivers will be subject to a five-day mandatory minimum jail term in addition to any other penalty for which they qualify.

“It is an important tool in our joint efforts to combat impaired driving and maintain public safety in the District,” said D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan. “With the new statute and the new, state-of-the-art equipment, we are now well positioned to combat impaired driving.”

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