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Breathalyzer Source Code Revealed 501

Nonillion writes "New Jersey attorney Evan M. Levow was finally able to get an order from the Supreme Court of New Jersey forcing the manufacturer of the popular Draeger AlcoTest 7110 to reveal the source code. Levow turned the code over to experts, Base One Technologies, to analyze. Initially, Base One found that, contrary to Draeger's protestations that the code was proprietary, the code consisted mostly of general algorithms: 'That is, the code is not really unique or proprietary.' In other words, the 'trade secrets' claim which manufacturers were hiding behind was completely without merit." Following up an earlier discussion here, the state of Minnesota has (without explanation) missed a deadline to turn over the code for a different breathalyzer.
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Breathalyzer Source Code Revealed

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  • The "code" probably digests an 8 bit unsigned char output of a A/D converter, a signal from the "alcohol detecterizer chip", the innards of which are probably proprietary. Then, if [quantized signal] is greater than X, then light the yellow light, if greater than [X+Y], light the red light and make a beep sound.
    • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @06:03PM (#20470751) Homepage

      You don't seem to have read the "article", but then again this is /.

      Even in such a simple case there are many things it should be testing. Is the A/D output sane? Does it take 3 quick samples while someone is blowing and average them or just take it once (which could be wrong for some reason)?

      According to the article, it doesn't look like it does. It calibrates the wind sensor, but doesn't check that the calibration is sane. It doesn't report errors unless they happen 32 times in a row. It disables the watchdog timer. It disables the interrupt for illegal instructions. It doesn't meet any coding standards. It contains code with things like "this is temporary for now" in it.

      There is an obvious reason why they didn't want the code released.

      • by letxa2000 ( 215841 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @09:02PM (#20472897)

        Even in such a simple case there are many things it should be testing. Is the A/D output sane? Does it take 3 quick samples while someone is blowing and average them or just take it once (which could be wrong for some reason)?

        I have an even more important question: Does the friggin' device work? I agree that reading through the observations, the code doesn't instill confidence. But the real important question is whether or not it works. There must be some requirement as to how many false positives/negatives are allowed because no matter how good your code, nothing is infallible. So what is the requirement in terms of acceptable false positives and/or false negatives, and does the device meet that requirement?

        Is there is a real and legitimate belief that this device doesn't work? Or is this just some escapade launched by an attorney to free a guilty drunk driver?

        • by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @12:47AM (#20474845)
          >Does the friggin' device work?

          Of course, by the time they actually bring out the breathalyzer, they've probably already decided to arrest you based on the Nystagmus test. Most of the procedure is just misdirection to keep the suspect calm, thinking he still has a chance to avoid arrest, even though it's already a foregone conclusion. It gives the DUI suspect a chance to dig a deeper grave for himself... The breathalyzer result is more valuable for getting confessions in the field, rather than for evidence in court. They don't actually *need* mechanical sobriety tests, since HGN, one-leg-stand, walk-and-turn tests and the like, stand up just fine in court.
          • by digitalunity ( 19107 ) <digitalunity AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @03:47AM (#20475995) Homepage
            I can tell you 100% this is true. I received a DUI for drinking 3 coronas in January in Washington state. I passed my field sobriety test with good marks, yet being a dumbass I volunterred to take a portable breathalyzer test yielding a .085% BAC.

            When I got back to the station to take the real breathalyzer, I brought to the attention of the police officer that the breathalyzer I was being tested on had a 2 year old calibration sticker. He said, and I quote "oh don't worry these machines are accurate to 10%!". Long story short, it said my BAC was .089% which was complete bullshit. How does 3 beers in 3 hours get someone to 0.089%!?!

            The police will lie to your face so you think you're going home, write down what is necessary to create probable cause(1) and screw you while you smile. What do you expect from a state that pulls in $800k a month from DUI fees and I'm sure many times more than that in corrections fees?

            1) I was pulled over for having a cracked tail light. I volunteered to do a field sobriety test including walk & turn, 1 leg stand, HGN. Walk & turn, I did flawlessy, state patrolmen even admitted it. One-leg stand, I made it to 45 seconds and only put my foot down once. The policeman wrote in his checksheet that I used my arms to balance myself and in the notes field wrote that I also kept my hands in my pockets because it was cold. ...? HGN is supposed to last 20 seconds max as outlined in NHTSA recommendations. The patrolmen kept the HGN test going for over 60 seconds, then wrote that I was showing signs of attention deficit due to intoxication because I took my eyes off the pen to look at him in bewilderment and ask if we were done yet. Judge says state patrolmen don't have to follow NHTSA recommended practices for administering field sobriety tests and the WSP are trained to administer the tests as best they see fit.

            Long story short... If you get pulled over and you have had even 1 drink, say these works: "I respectfully decline to provide any type of field sobriety test to you at this time. If you desire, I can accompany you to the nearest station for a breathalyzer as agreed when I received my drivers license."

            At that point, they must decide if their probable cause is worth the pain in the ass you are being. Although another recent story on /. seems to imply it doesn't even matter if you're right, you might get arrested anyway. WSP sucks, WA state corrections sucks, District of Clark County sucks. Disclaimers of course, IANAL, ymmv, don't drink & drive, bury the lawyers, etc.
            • by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @11:21AM (#20479985) Journal
              um, if you did the walking test flawlessly, why did the cop even ask you to do a breathalyser? The process for using one has to be documented, there are costs involved in replacing the breathing tube used, and more. For a 0.085, it's so close it's almost not worth it, and in most cases, by the time you got to the station and did another breathalyser, normally the number would go down not up. Cops know this, and also know that if they drag you in and you pass, there's typically hell to pay.

              That said, some people can ping 0.080 after only 1 drink, about 40 minutes after finishing that drink. If you had just finished your 3rd beverage, got in the car and then got pulled, after 3 drinks you could easily have been 0.08+. That fact that a second Breathalyzer confirmed this means you were guilty. Also, start counting the 3 hours from a point about 15 minutes after finishing the first drink, not from the time you got to the place to start drinking... You might see a different picture entirely there.

              If you have even a half-assed lawyer, and you bothered to get the ID numbers of both breathalyser used, and both had not been calibrated withing their required term (or failed calibration testing) then you would be let go without a fuss. My guess, at least one of the 2 units was within normal parameters or would pass calibration anyway, and thus be admissible in court.

              Fact is, at 0.08, you're impaired enough for it to be easily detectable in visual and reaction simulators. In fact, many states are arguing, based on scientific evidence, that this should be lowered to 0.06 as there is noticeable impairment at even that level. 0.06 means if you have 1 drink, 90 minutes later you could still fail.

              As for NHTSA recommendations on field testing, that's it, they're recommendations. Officers are expected to use their own best judgment on how to test a person. The NHTSA is more concerned with the type of test and teaching officers how to recognize signs of intoxication. On the other hand saying "Are we done yet?" probably just pissed him off...

              If you have 1 drink, you're probably OK, more than 1, you're at serious risk for DUI. Also remember, Corona is slightly stronger than say Bud Light. A Guiness is nearly twice as potent. A glass of wine is supposed to be 4 ounces, and is measured at 10% abv, but find me a restaurant that doesn't pour at least 6 oz glasses with 11-15% wine...

              Some foods can accelerate or slow the absorption as well. The first drink probably went right through you, but if you were eating food during the second and third rounds, both of them may have entered your system concurrently through digestion.

              Lessons learned here: 1, don't drive with a cracked tail light (and always use turn signals). 2, accept the field test, but decline the breathalyser. If you did bad enough on the field test, you'll go to jail anyway for a breathalyser or blood test, but if you're clean, you're OK, unless you piss off the cop or have a bad day. At the station, refuse a breathalyser and respectfully request a blood test on the grounds that it is more accurate. (if you failed a street sobriety test already, this might buy you a night in jail while you wait for results, but again, if you're clean, there's no worry) 3, never say "are we done yet" to a cop. Be polite, never act like you're in a rush. (and know his rank! This goes a long way!!!) 4, don't drink and drive... (drink at home, it's cheaper!) 5, if the calibration sticker is out of date, refuse the test and demand to have a supervisor come to the roadside site (it's your right to do so, though he may choose to bring you to the supervisor instead. this also goes for speeding tickets if the radar was not calibrated immediately before you were clocked with a tuning fork displaying a matching serial number to the radar). The more you know about the requirements the officer must display in the courtroom, the less likely you are to get a ticket. 6, have all your paperwork (registration, insurance, etc) neatly file
    • by Nos. ( 179609 ) <andrew&thekerrs,ca> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @06:03PM (#20470757) Homepage
      Well, looks like its a bit more than that (FTA):
      • Several sections are marked as "temporary, for now"
      • Converters will substitute arbitrary, favorable readings for the measured device if the measurement is out of range
      • The software takes an airflow measurement at power-up, and presumes this value is the "zero line" or baseline measurement for subsequent calculations. No quality check or reasonableness test is done on this measurement
      • It would fail software standards for the (FAA) and (FDA), as well as commercial standards used in devices for public safety
      What is this thing, alpha?
      • by daeg ( 828071 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @06:34PM (#20471175)
        It's a device intended to nab as many people as possible. The more people it "saves" from being killed by drunk driving the better. Accuracy doesn't matter, legal limits don't matter. ZOMG ALCOHOL!!! = Jail. Fines. Moral superiority. If police departments actually intended to serve the public, they'd come up with a more reliable system subject to completely public scrutiny and be glad to instill public trust in their methods by doing so.

        Flip it to another tool used for criminal convictions: if DNA were a public, proprietary process through only two or three companies nationwide and they refused to show anyone how it worked, would you trust them? Absolutely not.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Accuracy doesn't matter, legal limits don't matter. ZOMG ALCOHOL!!! = Jail. Fines. Moral superiority.

          I know I'm going to be torn apart limb by limb by the modders out there, but yes, you're right. The hard limit isn't really the point. Do you think people are suddenly dangerous over 0.05 (or whatever the limit is in your neck of the woods)? The point is that you've been drinking before you've been driving, and you really shouldn't have been doing that. That's what the law is intended to do: to stop you from

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by karmatic ( 776420 )
            If you're really only 0.04, the limit's 0.05, and you read over it, I'm sorry that such a miscarriage of justice happened.

            First off, I don't drink - never mind drinking and driving. And personally, I think that truly incapacitated drivers (not just Alcohol) that put others at risk should be jailed for a very long time. After all, killing someone lasts a lifetime.

            That being said, laws should be enforced properly, and evidence should be good. If driving at 0.04 is bad, then that's where the limit needs to
          • by Afecks ( 899057 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @12:10AM (#20474475)
            If the law says 0.05 is fine then we should hold ourselves to it. If we wanted 0.00 then write the law as such. Why is carrying out the law properly even an issue?
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Jon Howard ( 247978 )
            I don't want this to sound like a personal attack, because I'm sure you just haven't carried this logic through to all the edge cases. Let me point out the flaw in your argument: drink how much, and over what interval? I'll agree readily that if you have 10 drinks in 2 hours, you probably shouldn't be driving. Well, unless you're several hundred pounds, had a full stomach, and drank a lot of water during that interval... then who knows. That aside - what about 1 drink with a meal? Is that a deal-break
    • by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <> on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @06:59PM (#20471529) Homepage Journal
      It's even worse than that. The A/D converter is hooked up to a chamber, which at one time held a known amount of air. An infrared light source is at one end of the chamber, a photovoltaic cell at the other. The A/D converter reads the photovoltaic, they multiply it by the magic 2100 number (which is truly a magic number- it's based on an average and can really range from 1300 to 3000) and spit out the answer.

      This is why it's always vitally important to get a true blood test, and to preserve a sample for your attorney.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        This is why it's always vitally important to get a true blood test, and to preserve a sample for your attorney.

        On the contrary, insist on the breathalyzer and contest the results if you fail. If you fail the blood test, you're screwed.

        • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @07:51PM (#20472171) Homepage Journal
          "On the contrary, insist on the breathalyzer and contest the results if you fail. If you fail the blood test, you're screwed."

          I've posted this type info before...on other stories, but, depending on the state you are in, if you know you're gonna blow over the limit....refuse ALL tests...don't blow anything, don't give blood....and for God's sake...don't get out and try the field sobriety tests. All those do, is let the cops collect evidence to be used against you. According to my atty....he said you know you're going to jail no matter what...don't help them gather evidence from you. Just don't say anything, and put your hands out for the cuffs. And call the lawyer immediately....

          I know if varies from state to state...but, in many (maybe most) you probably will lose your license automatically for a year, but, can often get a hardship license for getting to work, food, etc. You may get a reckless driving...but, at least it isn't a DWI. That can hurt your credit, and job possibilities in this day of the MADD witchhunt. The new ridiculously low BAC forced by the feds (0.08) can get you nailed even if you are fine to drive.

          Anyway, if you like to have a drink out at should know the laws of your state...and be prepared...

          • How about this... (Score:3, Insightful)

            by ColdWetDog ( 752185 )

            Anyway, if you like to have a drink out at should know the laws of your state...and be prepared...

            Like calling a taxi or getting a designated driver?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by letxa2000 ( 215841 )

            Anyway, if you like to have a drink out at should know the laws of your state...and be prepared...

            Or just think ahead and don't drink if you're planning on navigating a massive structure weighing thousands of pounds down a highway with fellow human beings. Have a designated driver. Walk home. Take a cab. Driving isn't your only option.

            Rather than making this an exercise in what you can get away with within the law, make it an exercise in personal responsibility in regards to your fellow ma

  • by Mateo_LeFou ( 859634 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @05:55PM (#20470613) Homepage
    I didn't know SCO made breathalizers.
  • Shocked (Score:5, Funny)

    by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) * on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @05:55PM (#20470623) Journal
    You mean, the creator of an intellectual work thinks it's more creative than it really is? That very rarely happens.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @05:56PM (#20470627)
    if ( drunk ) {
    goto JAIL;
  • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @06:00PM (#20470689)
    Almost any firmware is just a collection of general algorithms. Calibration, self test, filters, look-up/calculations... I'm not subrised that there's nothing amazing in there. That they don't have any funky algorithms does not mean that the firmware is not a trade secret. It still takes significant engineering/test/validation effort to get to a working device.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cmowire ( 254489 )
      So? If you RTFA, you see that they didn't spend a lot of engineering/test/validation time either.
    • by WebCowboy ( 196209 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @07:09PM (#20471669)
      That they don't have any funky algorithms does not mean that the firmware is not a trade secret.

      Then what DOES make something a trade secret? The mere fact the software is compiled and/or programmed onto a chip? An EULA? An"anti-circumvention device" as defined by the DMCA? Seriously, where should we draw the line with "trade secrets" when it comes to protective legislation? The only "trade secret" revealed here is the fact that the manufacturer in question embedded alpha-quality software in a product released to production. That sort of a "trade secret" is generally considered willful negligence or fraud.

      It still takes significant engineering/test/validation effort to get to a working device.

      It is apparent that little to no such QA was done on this particular device, which to me sounds like a grave mistake considering the device is trusted to keep drunk drivers off the road. Keep in mind that this device is theoretically able to report just as many false negatives as false positives, do not only would it be possible for a sober driver to be falsely charged with a DUI (as this lawyer claims) it is also possible that countless drunk drivers falsely blew UNDER the limit and were allowed to continue on their way and put others in harms way. That could be considered criminal negligence on the part of those who engineered this device.

      Just because it takes effort (in time and money) "to get a working device" even when there is nothing novel in its functionality does not mean that those putting forth the effort should be able to hide from scrutiny behind a "trade secret". The systems I work on are sometimes involve safety interlocks. My employer subjects their software division's development practices to audits from government agencies. Our clients often stipulate that they must have access to source code (though since we are a closed-source shop we never grant redistribution rights). Even if there are novel implementations or "trade secrets" there are legal instruments to accommodate for them and still remain accountable.

      These "breathalyzer" devices used in the field are far from trade secrets--I remember plans for one in Radio Electronics years ago that was said to be quite reliable as a preliminary measurement device (didn't report a specific value, but had a "traffic-light-interface" of 3 LEDs). The "trade secret" excuse is flimsy and shameful. It is worse than the whole Diebold voting machine debacle because it can directly affect a person's safety and well-being.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Graff ( 532189 )

        Then what DOES make something a trade secret?

        According to the Uniform Trade Secrets Act []:

        (4) "Trade secret" means information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process, that:
        (i) derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use, and
        (ii) is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.

        Now in this case the algorithms in the breathalyzer code are generally known to the rest of the industry so the likelihood that the code contains trade secrets is pretty low. If the breathalyzer used a revolutionary, and probably patentable, method to measure the blood alcohol level then the code would be covered under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act and other relevant civil law.

        It's very likely that the breathalyzer manufacturer is just using the concept of a tra

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jbengt ( 874751 )
          "derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means . . . "
          The way I read that, it's protectable as a trade secret, because they can make more money selling the thing if they keep the crappy code a secret - if it gets leaked, they could lose a lot of sales if anyone cares about quality.
  • by justcauseisjustthat ( 1150803 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @06:02PM (#20470727)
    I've been thinking about DUI laws in the US and how the laws are just the second coming of prohibition of liquor. Why else would they take two legal activities like drinking alcohol and driving, and make it criminal. Yes, I understand people get hurt by drivers under influence. But lets be real and compare it to teens getting into accidents, senior citizens getting into accidents, sleep deprived individuals getting into accidents, etc. Think about it... You don't see people being tested for reaction speeds when taking driver tests!! You don't see people being tested for intelligence when taking driver tests!! You don't see people being tested for decision making ability when taking driver tests!! If people had to pass these types of tests we wouldn't have so many traffics jams. Think about it, why have some states in the US that use whisky plates (plates for cars owned by individuals convicted of a DUI) run out and had to expand the letters used.

    PS People who drink and get into accidents should be prosecuted as if they had reckless intent.
    • Statistically, intoxicated drivers are far more likely to be involved in fatal car accidents than any other group out there (save perhaps the legally blind, who don't often get into the drivers seat of a car, one will note). There is a clear correlation between drinking and driving and injuring, maiming and killing people (including the driver, passengers and any poor bastard that gets in the way).

      • 'alcohol related accidents' include events when a non-drunk crosses the double-yellow and crashes head-on into a drunk driver. I'm skeptical.
    • As much as I agree with everyone else who has replied to you and said you're an idiot.. I can make a better point against drink driving laws: until harm is done, no charges should be pressed. If you're driving erratically, the police should have the right to take you out of your car and deliver you home, leaving your car, locked, on the side of the road. Being charged for a crime that *might* have occurred is just wrong.
      • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @06:45PM (#20471317) Homepage Journal
        The unfortunate reality that the laws are trying to deal with, though, is that it is essentially impossible for law enforcement to spot all the drunks on the road, and deliver you home as you suggest (imagine the logistics of that: you could put all the police in this country on that duty full time!, and still not have enough cops).

        Worse, it won't even be near to possible for them to indentify all of the sufficiently impaired so as to protect the rest of us from their idiocy.

        What drunk driving laws do is create an incentive for everyone to voluntarily police themselves, and to act more responsibly. If you know you run a risk of a long incarceration just for drunk driving, you may not take my life into your hands by getting behind the wheel and driving the same roads as I do. If you (or most of these drunk idiots) know that the only penalty for getting caught is being taken home, then you'll be much more encouraged to just take your chances with my life, rather than deal with the inconvenience and cost of a taxi ride.

        Drunk driving laws disencentivize behaviors on an individual basis that normally have unfortunate incentives on an individual basis, but have an extremely high average cost for the rest of society. This is also why no-sleepy-driving and no-cellphone-driving laws are a similarly good idea.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by QuantumG ( 50515 )
          Whenever there is a fine involved, it becomes no longer about social good, but about revenue raising.

          In California, for example, police statistics have shown that crash rates did not go down when stronger DUI laws were enacted. Inherently, driving a vehicle is the dangerous activity.. drink driving just gives people an acceptable scapegoat.

      • by danpat ( 119101 )
        Given how high the likelihood of an accident is when a drunk driver is behind the wheel, and given how serious the accidents can get when they occur, don't you think it's bordering on criminal to drive a car while drunk?

        It sounds like you're saying that if you walk down a street, randomly firing your automatic weapon in all directions that the cops should be allowed to disarm you and send you on your way, but you shouldn't be charged with anything unless you actually hit someone or damage something.

        Anyone w
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jafiwam ( 310805 )
          Actually, I can tell you here in my (great drunk driving state of WI) that drinking while blasted does increase the probabilty of causing an accident.

          And, I agree with you it is a criminal act that should be punished after a day in court.


          We are not talking about the guys who are falling down smashed can't get the key in the door drunk.

          We are talking about folks at .10 (the former legal limit) or .09 (now illegal) or .08 (borderline illegal) getting shafted LOOOONNGG before they are at the level of i
        • While I don't necessarily disagree with you, I once made a similar argument that a car is a weapon, one which is far more likely to kill an innocent passer-by, even one who is not even operating a motor vehicle at the time, and thus it just common sense that drinking and driving is ridiculously stupid, dangerous and should be outlawed. You wouldn't fire a gun while drunk would you ?

          To which my wife replied "It's not illegal to get pissed drunk and take a gun and go hunting... well at least I don't think it
      • by Xolotl ( 675282 )
        If you're driving erratically, the police should have the right to take you out of your car and deliver you home, leaving your car, locked, on the side of the road. Being charged for a crime that *might* have occurred is just wrong. Let's look at it this way. You pass the driving test and get a license on the tacit basis that your judgement and reaction times are within certain norms. Alcohol reduces reaction time (measurably) and affects judgement (measurably). So driving under the influence, even if you
    • Mod Parent up! (Score:3, Insightful)

      Crappy moderation again. I really wish those closer to God than the rest of us here in Slashdot would eliminate this personal points of view moderation tactics. The post is a good one and raises many questions which are valid questions. The post also has generated discussion which is exactly what slashdot is all about.

      So moderators - stop attacking the messenger ok?

      There is a TV program which I do not watch called "Canada's worst drivers".

      This program apparently is oriented to rehabilitating some of the
  • by crimguy ( 563504 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @06:05PM (#20470773) Homepage
    The reason why no source code has been released in MN is that the manufacturer of the breathalyzer in that case, CMI, refuses to hand it over to anyone. They are asserting that it is a trade secret, and are resting on the fact that there is little a court in MN can do to force them, a Kentucky corporation, to hand it over.

    I represent three clients in Phoenix, AZ, who have been trying to get the code from CMI for the same reasons, and have been met with nothing but frustration. Fortunately, a couple judges here have agreed with the defense that examination of the code is necessary to mount a defense, under due process grounds. We (myself and a number of other attorneys) have had dismissals in a total of about 11 cases in the City of Phoenix, all of which are being appealed. There are a few cases in superior court that will be appealed shortly as well. It's been a busy time in the world of DUI litigation.

    Unfortunately, many judges here do not see the relevance. Further, they have enacted legislation to prevent the preclusion of breathalyzer results, despite the inability to examine the "schematics or source code" of the machines.

    Believe me when I tell you - these machines are unreliable, and subject to many errors, most glaringly the result of RFI screwing up the results. I've read the findings of the independent lab on the NJ case, and it does raise many concerns. My biggest problem is that law enforcement can essentially hide behind a foreign corporation, and a jury never hears about many of the problems at hand.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      In denmark the breath analyzers are only used on the scene and if you are tested positive they bring you in to take a blood test. Only the blood test is considered proper evidence.

      I'm actually a bit surprised that this isn't the case in america.
      • In some jurisdictions it's done that way, some don't to the blow-test at all, they just take you do the local hospital for a blood test. If you refuse the bloodtest, however, it's an automatic positive on the assumption you want to hide your BAC.
    • by Flavio ( 12072 )
      Believe me when I tell you - these machines are unreliable, and subject to many errors, most glaringly the result of RFI screwing up the results.

      Are you at liberty to say why RFI is considered the most glaring fault? I wouldn't expect this behaviour from a breathalizer, so it kind of surprises me.
      • because the cop would have high-powered digital radios and perhaps radar gun turned on while they test you in front of the bright lights. In the given environment, the low probability of circumstances is nearly certain to be in place to cause failure.
    • by khb ( 266593 )
      Isn't it legit for the accused to hold out for a blood test? Surely those are not nearly as prone to random acts of RFI and should result in residual blood for resampling in the event the Defense should want one.

      Indeed, wouldn't the simple fix for the Legal system to mandate blood sampling as a secondary test. That is, the on the spot device could only be used to determine who should have their blood sampled. Of course, anyone refusing to have the blood test would be back in the position of being potenti
      • In Illinois, at least, refusing to use a breathalizer is grounds to have your licenses revoked for 2 full years.
        • by nate nice ( 672391 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @06:49PM (#20471379) Journal
          That's not true.

          You don't have to take a breathalyser or do any road side test. And in fact you shouldn't. Even if you have been never tell the cop you've been drinking when pulled over.

          What you do have to do is submit to a blood test at a hospital if the suspect you of drunk driving. If you don't then you'll lose your license.

          Here's some advice if pulled over:

          When asked if you've been drinking, say no. They always ask this question a night. If you say yes you've had one or whatever, you are a suspected DUI. They usually won't smell things on your breath or whatever. Just say no and they'll probably just ask to run your license and give you a speeding ticket. Unless it's obvious you're drunk

          When asked to get out of the car, comply. You have to. If they ask you to do ANY roadside test, decline. You will be pressured here. Simply say your lawyer informed you to never do a roadside test under any circumstance. The cop will evaluate you at this time. One of 2 things will happen now.

          If you're borderline and seem to be "normal" or not very drunk, they'll probably let you go with a ticket. They realize that it will be a waste of their time to arrest you take you down to the hospital, file reports, etc only to find out you are at .07. Remember, the time it takes from pulling you over to actually taking a test is often over an hour. You will likely have sobered up some by this point. And potentially moved from a .1 to a .7 fairly easily. Or even from a more serious .12 to a less expensive and serious .9 or something borderline.

          If you're obviously drunk, they'll take you down confidently knowing you will fail the test and be charged. But that's the price you pay for driving when sloshed.

          The keys: Never admit to drinking anything. This can only hurt you. Let your lawyer do the talking. Refuse any roadside test. They can only hurt you. Cooperate and take a blood test. Potentially an hour or more after you've been pulled over. You will invariably be more sober than when you were pulled over. This works to your advantage.

          • "And potentially moved from a .1 to a .7 fairly easily. Or even from a more serious .12 to a less expensive and serious .9 or something borderline."

            Please excuse my terrible decimal writing there. It is meant to say a a .1 to a .07 and a .12 to a .09.
          • by jmauro ( 32523 )
            According to the current laws, refusing a breathalyzer test will cause you to lose your license for at least a year regardless of a DUI conviction. It is part of the acceptance of the drivers license that you agree to submit to a test at any time for any reason, even if your not driving. On the otherhand, refusing the test cannot be used against you in the actual DUI case that was the cause of the stop.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by nate nice ( 672391 )
              Interesting. I can't believe Illinois would force people to take roadside tests like that.

              Now, when you say breathalyser, are you talking about the roadside one or the station one? There's quite a difference.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              In Pa, and NJ you can refuse the breathalyzer and submit to a blood test (I am pretty sure that this is still true of Va as well). I am pretty sure that this is true in most states, but I only know this for sure of these two (and that it used to be true of Va). Also, in Pa I am pretty sure that only applies when you are driving not when, for example, you are the passenger in a car.
              There are two things that bother me about the discussion of what percentage of accidents are alcohol related. The first has be
          • by fbjon ( 692006 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @07:13PM (#20471727) Homepage Journal
            Here's a better idea: don't drink and drive.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Bios_Hakr ( 68586 )
              At the current BAC levels, drinking and driving do not mean what you think they mean. Using mouthwash in the morning or before your drive home (some people brush their teeth more than twice a day) can mean you'll test positive. If you have a beer with friends over dinner and drive 2 hours later, you can still test positive.

              The MADD crew lost the moral high-ground long ago.
        • by paitre ( 32242 )
          Maryland is the same.
          It's also enough to have you arrested instantly, as refusal to take a breathalizer is considered and admission of guilt.
      • The biggest is that many people don't know that, and most aren't told. You are correct that many jurisdictions all you to choose a blood test. Also many allow you to demand that a separate sample is kept your your defense team to send to their own lab. However I've never heard of any jurisdiction where they have to tell you that. So it's the kind of thing most people just aren't going to know. They assume that the breathalyzer is accurate and don't know to challenge that.

        This is especially true because unfo
    • Hopefully enough state courts begin dismissing these cases that the customers (that is the police) force the manufacturers to clean up their act.

      This isn't much different than the magical IP_address->User_Name that RIAA has been using. If courts begin tossing out cases, or at least disallowing these technologies as evidence, then a foot is going to fall somewhere.
    • Do you think this is going to make the breathalyzer industry one that needs to meet certain standards similar to the avionics and health care industries?

      From the sound of it, it would be trivial to bring the code up to snuff. Only a few months worth of work for a software engineer or two. I think the state should have a DER (Designated Engineering Representative) which audits the source code and development practices of these equipment manufacturers (radar guns, breathalyzers, etc).

      I definitely think that
      • I can't imagine a DUI ruining someones life. It would suck to get and a series of them can really mess things up, but it won't ruin your life.

        Also, you refer to it with the propaganda word "drunk driving". To be over the limit doesn't mean you're drunk. In fact, plenty of people could have a .08 and be perfectly sober all things considered.
  • Trade Secrets (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CopaceticOpus ( 965603 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @06:15PM (#20470949)
    My guess is that 99% of proprietary code contains a big trade secret: The secret of just how crappy the source code really is.

    If they were expecting their code to be opened to the public, they would have taken the effort to fix up "" which contains the single comment "//This works though i'm not sure why... clean up l8r!!!!".
  • ... there's no real secret to making your product? I can see companies wanting to hide that!
  • by poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @06:41PM (#20471265) Journal
    Please read here at 8/successful-dui-breath-test-machine.html [] where they have all the information on the flaws. I will post the summary line of each result from Base one (link to their homepage) [] as follows:

    1. The Alcotest Software Would Not Pass U.S. Industry Standards for Software Development and Testing
    2. Readings are Not Averaged Correctly: When the software takes a series of readings, it first averages the first two readings.
    3. Results Limited to Small, Discrete Values: The A/D converters measuring the IR readings and the fuel cell readings can produce values between 0 and 4095.
    4. Catastrophic Error Detection Is Disabled: An interrupt that detects that the microprocessor is trying to execute an illegal instruction is disabled
    5. Implemented Design Lacks Positive Feedback: The software controls electrical lines, which switch devices on and off, such as an air pump, infrared source, etc. The design does not provide a monitoring sensory line (loop back) for the software to detect that the device state actually changed. This means that the software assumes the change in state is always correct, but it cannot verify the action.
    6. Diagnostics Adjust/Substitute Data Readings: The diagnostic routines for the Analog to Digital (A/D) Converters will substitute arbitrary, favorable readings for the measured device if the measurement is out of range, either too high or too low.
    7. Flow Measurements Adjusted/Substitute d: The software takes an airflow measurement at power-up, and presumes this value is the "zero line" or baseline measurement for subsequent calculations.
    8. Range Limits Are Substituted for Incorrect Average Measurements: In a manner similar to the diagnostics, voltage values are read and averaged into a value.
    9. Code Does Not Detect Data Variations
    10. Error Detection Logic: The software design detects measurement errors, but ignores these errors unless they occur a consecutive total number of times
    11. Timing Problems: The design of the code is to run in timed units of 8.192 milliseconds, by means of an interrupt signal to a handler, which then signals the main program control that it can continue to the next segment.
    12. Defects In Three Out Of Five Lines Of Code: A universal tool in the open-source community, called Lint, was used to analyze the source code written in C. This program uncovers a range of problems from minor to serious problems that can halt or cripple the program operation.

    Sorry if this is redundant, I didn't see it listed anywhere that I could tell up front. If you note that list is pretty serious. They picked a "top 5" type thing for the other link, but this one is pretty accurate. Note these guys were called in as expert witnesses and their information on their website shows they have extensive experience working with government. If these guys find flaws that is definitely pretty serious.

    • 2. Readings are Not Averaged Correctly: When the software takes a series of readings, it first averages the first two readings. Then, it averages the third reading with the average just computed. Then the fourth reading is averaged with the new average, and so on. There is no comment or note detailing a reason for this calculation, which would cause the first reading to have more weight than successive readings. Nonetheless, the comments say that the values should be averaged, and they are not.

      The first po

    • by Tuoqui ( 1091447 )
      Is this anything like the 12 step program in AA?
  • by mathfeel ( 937008 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @06:50PM (#20471395)

    "7. Flow Measurements Adjusted/Substituted: The software takes an airflow measurement at power-up, and presumes this value is the "zero line" or baseline measurement for subsequent calculations. No quality check or reasonableness test is done on this measurement..."

    So, if I blow into the device as soon as it boots, I will always be tested negative??
  • This is important (Score:5, Informative)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @07:48PM (#20472121) Homepage Journal

    Without measures like this, police brethalyser selection is distorted by powerful confirmation biases.

    Given an honest belief that suspects that are given the brethalyser test are intoxicated, the natural selection bias is towards machines that read positive more often. Even without a single thought of "we need a machine that convicts regardless of guilt", that's what they will tend to get.

    Allowing the defense to face the actual witness (the brethalyser) so to speak provides the needed negative feedback to drive selection back towards accurate impartial instruments even if only to make DUI charges stick in court.

    More to the point, it can drive machine selection towards those that meet the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. If trials are going to favor the readout on a brethalyser, the machine should (for example) always round towards a lower reading when measuring or computing. For example, if there is any noise in a reading, the lowers is beyond reasonable doubt, the average is vaguely justifiable (though it is probably closer to a preponderance than it is beyond reasonable doubt) and the highest is just plain trying to get convictions regardless of merit. Otherwise it has the potential to accuse someone of DUI (to the extent that a machine can accuse) even if in fact componant tolerances may mean the difference between just over the limit vs. just under. After all, the machine is not suceptable to a jury judging if it seems unsure or knew it was close to the edge based on testimony.

    A surprising number of measurement devices meant for scientific and medical purposes (as well as law enforcement) do NOT correctly handle significant digits, error bars, or rounding. Many programmers do not understand the importance of different rounding rules, and even think that add .5 then truncate is always correct.

  • by Mudd Guy ( 716972 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @07:50PM (#20472157)
    I think it's great the source code is getting out, and that we'll find out which devices are crappy and which are better.

    But in the end, I don't think any of this matters. Drunk drivers are not prosecuted based on roadside breathalyzer tests. They are prosecuted based on tests done back at the police station using either a blood test or a much better lab-quality breathalyzer. These instruments are regularly tested in a way that makes it easy to convince a jury of the validity of the results. I've seen some of the corresponding tests on a roadside breathalyzer, and they convinced me not to trust the device.

    So, it's good advice to decline the roadside tests.
  • Actually... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Sj0 ( 472011 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2007 @09:27PM (#20473055) Journal
    Actually, the breathalyzer is a painfully simple device, none of it is a trade secret. It's basically a pair of heated-wire anerometers in parallel, where both have a gas sample travelling at the same velocity, at the same temperature run through an anerometer.

    A heated-wire anerometer works by running a current through a wire and measuring the voltage drop through the wire. The resistance will change with the speed and specific heat of the substance you're passing across the wire, because the substance will cool the heated wire based on a number of factors. A breathalyzer simply eliminates the speed measurement, and the other measurements, and what remains is the specific heat of the substance passing through the device. They simply run a reference gas in the opposite anerometer, and take the differential, and the alcohol will give a certain value.

    Not a trade secret, unless something being common knowledge for all instrument engineers taught in the past 40 years is a trade secret.
  • I am still licensed to be a medical technologist, I spent a lot of time working in hospital chemistry labs with computerized equipment, and that software fails all kinds of reasonable criteria for calibrating and operating any equipment.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"