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The Weekly | Breath Tests Aim to Stop Drunk Driving. Can We Trust the Results?


Producer/Director: Singeli Agnew

More than 1 million people a year are arrested for drunk driving and most are asked to blow into a breath test machine to see how impaired they might be. The devices, among the most widely used forensic tools in law enforcement, generate numbers that can all but guarantee a driver’s conviction and punishment. In most states, if you refuse the test, you lose your license.

For months, The New York Times has been investigating problems with the technology used to make these cases. Our reporters found that tens of thousands of breath tests in more than a dozen states have been thrown out by judges. What does it mean if we can’t trust a tool hailed as accurate to the third decimal place?

“The Weekly” talks to drivers facing punishment for a crime they may not have committed, some officials worried guilty drivers could be let off, and some of the people who make the machines that determine who’s drunk and who’s not.


Senior Story Editors Dan Barry, Liz O. Baylen, and Liz Day
Director of Photography Vanessa Carr
Video Editor Geoff O’Brien
Producer Lizzie Blenk
Associate Producer Abdulai Bai


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