The Breathalyzer-type device used by the police to test drivers for intoxication is prone to errors, overly sensitive, and often confuses non-alcoholic beverages with intoxicating ones, leading to the unfair prosecution of untold numbers of people for driving under the influence, a report released last week found.
The research, conducted by Dr. Igal Bar-Ilan, who heads the Analytical Chemistry Department at the research institute MIGAL in Kiryat Shmona, was initiated after a DUI suspect hired a chemistry lab to test the device's effectiveness.
Among other findings, the test revealed that the breathalyzer often confuses Tirosh grape juice and cough medicine with alcohol. The test also found that the strength and duration of someone's exhalation can have an effect, as well as the user's gender and the temperature outside.
Attorney Eran Ben-Ami, who represents a large number of people who are questioning the device's results, said that resulting lawsuits could cost the police and the state billions of shekels in damages.
"If you have over the last five years since the breathalyzer went into effect only 10,000 people were wrongfully charged and each one wants NIS 100,000 in damages, you reach a sum of NIS 10 billion. Now, think - if some of those people contend that the charges caused them emotional distress, the amount would continue to rise," he said.
Ben-Ami added that he believes police will continue to defend the use of the device, because to do otherwise would admit guilt and invite an avalanche of easily won lawsuits.
Police have categorically dismissed the report, with Traffic Police spokesman Yigal Habasor calling it "baseless" and "idiotic."
Habasor said the report was part of a media campaign meant to discredit police arrests. Police will continue to use the device and the findings of the report are irrelevant, he said.