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Karl A. Racine
Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia

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Updated Breath Test Instruments, New Law Improve DC Enforcement Efforts against Impaired Drivers

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ted Gest, Public Information Officer
[email protected]

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – The use of updated breath test instruments in each of the Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) seven districts and a year-old overhaul of D.C. laws on impaired driving have helped improve prosecution of cases against impaired drivers, Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said today.

Speaking to the Washington Regional Alcohol Program’s annual awards luncheon, Nathan expressed hope that “the new DUI laws, the improved breath testing programs, and the many accomplishments of law enforcement in this past year will assist in reducing impaired driving in the District and the National Capital region.”

The breath test instruments, called the Intoximeter EC/IR II, became operational just over a year ago, on September 28, 2012. Use of the instruments starting last fall ended a period beginning in early 2010 in which breath testing by MPD was suspended when the devices previously used were found to have been miscalibrated.

During the interim period, law enforcement authorities were able to use urine tests, and in some cases blood tests, to determine alcohol levels or drug content of suspected impaired drivers. However, it often took several months to receive the results from the toxicology testing.

Now, trained police officers can obtain instant results from breath tests that indicate whether suspected impaired drivers have more than the statutory limit of .08 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath or .04 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath for impaired drivers operating commercial vehicles. The definition of commercial vehicle in the District includes taxi cabs.

The use of breath test technology allows law enforcement and prosecutors to determine quickly whether an individual is impaired by alcohol or whether additional drug testing may be necessary. The test is simple to administer. Drivers exhale into a tube and the instrument generates a result that the officer is able to review at the time of testing.

The new breath testing program is overseen by a forensic toxicologist at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), who helped develop the program and maintains its quality assurance.  The agency said that more than 900 tests have been administered on the seven instruments in their first year.

Including classes held in August and this month, 81 officers have been trained to use the devices. MPD made nearly 1,100 arrests for impaired driving in the year ending September 30, part of a District-wide total of nearly 1,500 when arrests by several federal agencies are included.

In his remarks today, the Attorney General thanked the District’s Department of Transportation (DDOT), which helped obtain the funding for the breath testing improvements, and other District and local partners that contribute to impaired-driving enforcement.

He also discussed the updated D.C. laws on impaired driving, which provide higher penalties for first time impaired driving and more severe mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders, offenders with high alcohol concentration levels, commercial vehicle drivers, and for those impaired by Schedule I drugs, such as PCP. For the first time in the District, the law requires impaired drivers who drive with children in their vehicles to be jailed.

Attorney General Nathan said that even during the period before the District installed state of the art, well-calibrated equipment, “I am proud to say that our rates of conviction among cases we elected to prosecute remained steady and even went up slightly.”

“As we approach Halloween and the holiday season,” the Attorney General concluded, “we hope that our residents will celebrate responsibly” and that if they do choose to drink, they take advantage of the WRAP organization’s Sober Ride program, designate a sober driver, or use public transportation. For people “who make the wrong choice and get behind the wheel,” he said, “we know that our dedicated team of law enforcement professionals stands ready to help keep the District’s streets safe.”