We Care

Could that police officer’s flashlight or clipboard be a “drunk driver detection” tool?

If you are pulled over by a police officer because they suspect that you may be driving drunk, they will size up your sobriety in a variety of ways long before they ask you to submit to field sobriety tests like walking a straight line or blowing into a Breathalyzer. 

What are passive alcohol sensors?

Among the tools police use are passive alcohol sensors (PAS). These are electronic devices that can be built into things like clipboards, flashlights and other objects. PAS devices are able to detect alcohol in the air in and around the driver and the vehicle. That means that if an officer stops you at night and shines their flashlight into your car and your face or uses it to look at your driver’s license, they may also be trying to detect the presence (or recent presence) of alcohol.

Unlike Breathalyzers and other devices that measure a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC), PAS devices can be used without a driver’s participation or consent. They aren’t as precise, of course, in determining if a person has been consuming alcohol — nor can they really tell how much is in someone’s system. However, they can give officers cause for reasonable suspicion that someone is under the influence and subject to arrest for suspicion of drunk driving – along with observations about the way someone was driving and about their appearance and behavior (like slurred speech and watery, bloodshot eyes). These devices have been shown to have at least a 70% detection rate.

Can PAS results be used as evidence?

The results of PAS devices, while accurate and more likely to be believed than an officer saying they smelled alcohol in a person’s car or on their breath, still aren’t permissible as evidence in court that a person was driving with a BAC above the legal limit. However, it’s possible that the results might be allowed in court to detail why the officer suspected that a person was under the influence and proceeded to further tests like a Breathalyzer or blood test.

It’s essential to know what a PAS device is, where it might be hidden and what role the results can and cannot play in a DUI charge or conviction. If you are facing DUI charges, your attorney can explain all of the evidence that led to the charge and any options for contesting that evidence.