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Airbags in DUI Car Accidents Can Cause Erroneous Breath Tests

Most breath test machines in America use a laser beam of infrared light to measure alcohol in a subject's breath sample.  This beam can be thought of as a flashlight beam.  The beam requires a clean sample chamber and pathway that is obstruction free.  Otherwise, the beam will be deflected and adversely effect the accuracy of the breath test result.  This technology was introduced in current breath testing machines in the 1980's - well before the introduction of airbags.

Now, every new car sold in America must have airbags.  Airbags detonate when pre-set parameters are met by the vehicle's sensors.  The airbag is filled with a powder similar to talc or cornstarch.  The powder serves as lubricant to assist in the rapid deployment of the airbag.  Once the airbag inflates, it starts to deflate and this powder is pushed out of the airbag and into the cabin of the vehicle.

While the driver of the vehicle gets their bearings, they remain in the vehicle long enough to inhale this airbag powder.  The inhalation of this dust reaches the mouth, trachea, and lungs.  Many people have reported coughing up this dust for several hours after an accident.

The problem arises when the motorist blows into a breath test machine after inhaling this powder.  This very fine powder is blown into the sample chamber by the motorist.  The dust acts like little mirrors deflecting and diffusing the infrared laser beam inside the breath test machine.  Think of a time you've driven at night with your headlights on in the fog.  The fog is simply very fine particles of water in the air.   The light being diffused and deflected is called the "Tyndall Effect". 

The prudent DUI defense attorney will fully examine the client's vehicle scene photos for the presence of a deployed airbag.  In the event a client blew into a breath test machine that operates on infrared spectroscopy (Intoxilyzer 5000 and 8000; BAC DataMaster), it is crucial to develop this reasonable and plausible explanation for a breath test reading over the legal limit. 




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