Breathalyser used worldwide, court hears

2011-05-24 20:39

Cape Town - Dräger breath-testing equipment was marketed worldwide and modified to suit the needs of individual countries, the Western Cape High Court heard on Tuesday.

No country in the entire world had ever rejected the equipment as unreliable, Dräger expert Jurgen Sohege said.

Sohege was the first of a number of experts called to the witness stand in a Dräger test case involving motorist Clifford Joseph Hendricks.

Hendricks has pleaded not guilty to driving while the alcohol vapour in his exhaled breath was 0.95mg. The maximum allowed is 0.24.

He has claimed that the Dräger Alcotest used in South Africa is unreliable and therefore unconstitutional.

Sohege told Judge Nathan Erasmus and assessor Sasha Curic that he had worked for the Dräger company for 20 years, and that the breath-testing equipment was first introduced in the United States in the 50s.

It measured the concentration of alcohol in the breath, he said.

He said drunk-driving suspects had to blow into a tube that formed part of the equipment, which was designed to detect gas concentration in the breath.

The apparatus analysed the gas concentration and then indicated the alcohol level in a suspect's breath.

Sohege said part of his function was to research international medical, safety and gas-detection practices.

There were ongoing discussions about whether Dräger equipment was suitable for testing the consumption of alcohol in relation to the liquor-related carnage on the roads.

"Dräger equipment is used widely throughout the world, and I am an expert in this field," he testified.

"When questions come up concerning breath-alcohol tests, we are obliged to answer as best we can."

What was required of Dräger equipment differed from country to country.


In Tuesday's proceedings, a document containing prosecuting guidelines for "evidentiary breath testing" was handed to the court.

According to the document, the equipment may only be operated by a registered and appointed traffic or police officer.

The traffic or police officer had to have passed an operator's course for the particular model of apparatus in use, and had to be in possession of an operator's certificate of competence.

According to the document, the equipment had to comply with the National Road Traffic Act, and had to be calibrated at least every six months.

A certified copy of the calibration certificate had to be available on site.

Equipment that was outside the six-month period had to be re-calibrated before it could be used for prosecution purposes.

The hearing continues on Wednesday.

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