Dept. of Safety wants to replace 20-year-old breathalyzers
CONCORD — The machines used to determine the blood alcohol content of a suspected drunk driver are 20 years old and difficult to repair, according to law enforcement officials.
The Department of Safety wants to replace the machines with up-to-date and more accurate equipment, but state law requires police to give the person tested a duplicate sample of the air analyzed for an independent lab to evaluate.
The new breathalyzer machines do not provide the additional sample, so the Department of Safety asked lawmakers to eliminate the second sample requirement.
New Hampshire is the only state currently using the old breathalyzer machines that provide a second sample for an independent test.
Deputy Attorney General Anne Rice said the new machines are more accurate and reliable.
“This is a very important bill for the Department of Safety and law enforcement throughout the state,” Rice said. “When the machines break down, parts are nearly impossible to find.”
If SB 379 fails, and more and more machines become unusable, blood tests would be the only alternative, and that would be very problematic, especially for smaller police departments, Rice said.
But Lancaster attorney Leonard Harden, representing members of the defense bar, said the state needs to replace the old machines, but also has to make blood tests for independent analysis convenient and timely.
He called the blood test the “gold standard,” noting breathalyzers are an indirect measure of blood alcohol content. He said police have kits for blood tests, and taking someone to the hospital for a test is no more time consuming than waiting for a breath test.
Harden said the state needs to do more than give someone a list of providers and leave it to the person to find someone to do the test. He said that is not workable and probably unconstitutional after the two state Supreme Court rulings that a second sample for independent verification should be provided if available.
He suggested the committee look at several other states’ laws that require timely blood tests for a second analysis.
“The goal is timing,” Harden said.
“We are at a crossroads where we need to look at replacing this equipment,” said Tim Pifer, director of the state forensic laboratory.
Currently there is only one lab to do the independent analysis for breath samples that also evaluates blood samples: CG Labs Inc. in Pembroke.
The company’s president, John Godfrey, said he did 480 tests on breath tubes for drunk driving analysis and 83 blood samples last year.
“These machines are old and I know they have to go,” Godfrey said. “And I know my business will suffer. I just don’t want it to die.”
The committee did not make an immediate recommendation on the bill.
Similar bills to do away with the second breath sample for independent testing have failed to pass the Legislature.