Pittsburgh, PA- In their battle against drunken driving, law enforcement agencies employ a number of techniques and tools to catch intoxicated drivers. One police force in Pennsylvania is using a new technology to detect whether a driver has been drinking and these tools could soon be used by law enforcement officers across the country.
When a person gets pulled over for driving under the influence, police must, at first, rely on their senses to determine if a driver has been drinking. Driving erratically, speeding or other traffic violations give police enough probable cause to pull a driver over, but before they can charge a driver, they must have more proof a driver is intoxicated.
Getting that proof requires that police notice signs of intoxication, after all they can’t ask every driver to submit to a breathalyzer. This means that officers must rely on what they see, hear and smell before a driver is put through sobriety tests. Police must note in their reports that the driver’s eyes are bloodshot or they smell of alcohol, but not all law enforcement officers have the same sense of smell.
To level the playing field, federal agencies began testing the effectiveness of a new technology, flashlights which can detect alcohol on a driver’s breath. These flashlights look like the ones every officer uses during a night traffic stop or at sobriety checkpoints.
The flashlights are known as passive alcohol sensors, but when they are placed five to ten inches away from person’s mouth it can tell whether a person has been drinking heavily, moderately or lightly or not at all. Information gleaned from the flashlights is not alone enough to convict a driver.
An indicator light will illuminate and give an officer an idea of whether a driver has been drinking. If any alcohol is detected by these hi-tech flashlights, which cost about $700 a piece, an officer can proceed with more accurate sobriety testing such as field sobriety tests and breathalyzers.
These flashlights were initially rolled out in State College, Pennsylvania in 2011, and could be in the hands of more law enforcement officers over the next few years if the pilot program proves to be successful.
The flashlights are part of a five-year study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In one case study the detection of alcohol shot up to 71 percent with the help of these highly advanced flashlights. Without the specialized lights, according to the study, alcohol detection was only 55 percent.
If the program in State College, Pennsylvania is successful, the flashlights could be rolled out to law enforcement agencies across the country once the study period is complete.
Most Richmond DUI lawyers would argue that the technologies used to catch intoxicated drivers is not as scientifically sound as they may believe and adding another unreliable testing method doesn’t make sense. The results from breathalyzers and field sobriety tests are continuously being challenged and adding this technology could further add to the list of questionable tests.