Israeli Breathalyzer Test Confuses Grape Juice With Alcohol

Inaccurate test may have resulted in thousands of motorists wrongly convicted of driving under the influence.

The reliability of a breathalyzer device widely used by Israeli police has been called into question: A new study found the device is vulnerable to external conditions, and prone to registering innocuous substances as alcohol.

The defense team for a suspect charged with driving under the influence hired an expert to test the breathalyzer, manufactured by the German firm Draeger and widely used by the Israel Police.

The expert - Dr. Igal Bar-Ilan, head of the Analytical Chemistry Department at the research institute MIGAL in Kiryat Shmona, and a lecturer at the city's Tel-Hai Academic College - found that external conditions such as temperature, humidity, and the length and speed of inhalation can affect reported BAC levels, making the driver seem intoxicated when he is not.

Bar-Ilan also found that the device is likely to incorrectly interpret compounds like acetone and acetic acid as alcoholic substances.

The study was conducted under police supervision and in cooperation with Draeger.

The device reported alcohol in Tirosh brand grape juice and the energy drink XL, the experiment found. When small amounts of alcohol were mixed with these beverages, the device reported the quantity was larger than it actually was.

Eran Ben-Ami, the attorney who initiated the study, said thousands of Israeli motorists may have been wrongly convicted of driving under the influence - an offense for which drivers may lose their licenses for two years.