Court raises alcohol threshold for DUI charges

Drivers will now be permitted 400 micrograms of alcohol per 1 liter of exhaled air, instead of the previously allowed 240. The aim is to improve the test’s reliability by increasing its margin of error.

March 8, 2010 02:12
3 minute read.
A woman takes a Breathalyzer test. [illustrative]

yanshuf breathalyzer illustrative 58. (photo credit: .)

A three-judge panel from the Jerusalem Traffic Court decided on Sunday to raise the threshold for drunk driving determinations based on results of the Yanshuf Breathalyzer test.

Drivers will now be permitted 400 micrograms of alcohol per 1 liter of exhaled air, instead of the previously allowed 240. The aim is to improve the test’s reliability by increasing its margin of error.

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“At the end of the day, we are satisfied that the device performs its job correctly and accurately in most of the cases. However, there are extreme cases for which wider margins of deviation than those existing should be set. These margins will ensure that the drivers will be prosecuted only if their blood alcohol level exceeds the level established by the legislature,” the court’s ruling read.

In recent years, the Yanshuf test has come under criticism for being too sensitive. Tests have revealed that it can be thrown off by non relevant conditions such as temperature, humidity and the strength and duration of the breath used for measurement. Tests also show that the Yanshuf sometimes reads non-alcoholic substances, like acetone, as alcohol.

A study conducted in 2009 by Dr. Yigal Bar-Ilan, a chemistry professor at Tel Hai College in the Galilee panhandle, revealed that the Yanshuf reported false measurements from products that contain very little or no alcohol like Tirosh grape juice, certain types of fresh orange juice and energy drinks, and that combined with legally permitted amounts of alcohol, gave a excessively high reading that would determine a person as too drunk to legally drive.

“We hope that this decision will end the multiplicity of arguments that arise frequently in traffic courts across the country because of the doubt cast on the Yanshuf’s reliability,” the ruling read.

The court also decided that drivers who measured between 240 and 400 micrograms of alcohol per 1 liter of exhaled air, could be subjected to a blood test that would more accurately establish their blood alcohol level.

Or Yarok, The Movement to Change the Driving Culture in Israel, spoke out against the ruling.

“The court’s decision to raise the threshold is a slap in the face to the government’s policy that seeks to eradicate drunk driving. Studies show that even at the levels established by the legislature, at 240 micrograms of alcohol per 1 liter of exhaled air, driving skills are impaired. The threshold set by the court in effect permits drunk drivers to take to the road,” the NGO said in a statement.

Prof. David Shinar, chief scientist for the National Road Safety Authority, also said the level permitted by the court was too high.

He said that in a study conducted by the authority, it was found that there is a high correlation between the Yanshuf’s results and the results from blood tests. The study found a 1 percent margin of error between the two tests, meaning a single case out of 100 would show someone as being above the legal limit when in fact they were not.

Attorney Eitan Gorovich, who specializes in traffic law, said the court’s decision would likely bring to rest arguments about the device’s accuracy, but had dire implications for prosecutors.

Gorovich said Israeli law on permitted alcohol levels was among the strictest in the developed world and that the police’s dependence on the Yanshuf had increased in recent years.

“Years ago, any driver suspected of being under the influence of alcohol was sent to do a blood test. The Yanshuf was a good solution for them, because it didn’t require all the effort and expenses that the blood tests did. These days officers set up inspection stations at key locations and conduct random inspections of vehicles. In this way they charge thousands of drivers every year,” he said.

Gorovich said the main deterrent to driving under the influence was the punishment likely to be faced by the offender.

“The penalty for drunk driving is a two-year suspension and a NIS 1,500 fine. Also, people whose license is suspended need to go through the whole procedure of issuing a new license.”

According to police statistics, 11,216 drivers were caught drunk driving as a result of 530,000 tests conducted in 2009.

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