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Why Do Cops Do Field Sobriety Tests, Instead of Breathalyzer – Discovering the Truth

why do cops do field sobriety tests, instead of breathalyzer

Why Do Cops Do Field Sobriety Tests, Instead of Breathalyzer

If you’ve ever wondered, “Why do cops opt for field sobriety tests instead of a breathalyzer?”, you’re not alone. It’s a question I’ve asked myself time and again. The answer lies in the specific circumstances and legalities surrounding each method of determining impairment.

Firstly, we need to understand that field sobriety tests are frequently the first line of assessment when it comes to suspected drunk driving incidents. Officers use these tests as an initial gauge to determine if there’s probable cause for further testing. They’re usually performed roadside and involve simple tasks designed to evaluate motor control, balance, attention span – basically anything that might be compromised by alcohol consumption.

On the other hand, breathalyzers provide more concrete data but they come with their own set of limitations too. For instance, they can’t always capture the full picture of a driver’s impairment especially if substances other than alcohol are involved. Moreover, legal issues may also restrict their use in certain situations which I’ll delve into later in this article.

Understanding Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests, or FSTs as they’re often called, are a series of exercises police officers use to determine if a driver may be impaired. I’ve observed these tests in action and can tell you it’s not about acing a physical challenge, but rather about assessing one’s cognitive function and motor skills – two things that alcohol can significantly impair.

Let’s look at the three most common field sobriety tests. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk-and-Turn (WAT), and One-Leg Stand (OLS) are known as the “standardized” field sobriety tests. When an officer asks you to follow their finger with your eyes only, that’s the HGN test. They’re looking for involuntary jerking of the eye which could indicate impairment. Next is WAT where you’ll be asked to take nine steps heel-to-toe along a straight line, then turn and do it again. It might seem easy but under influence, maintaining balance becomes difficult. Lastly comes OLS where you stand on one foot while counting aloud until told to stop.

So why do cops prefer these over breathalyzer tests? For starters:

  • Breathalyzers require consent: Unlike FSTs that can be performed without a suspect’s agreement, breathalyzer requires explicit consent.
  • Physical signs: If an officer pulls someone over under suspicion of DUI, they’re already looking for physical signs of impairment – slurred speech, lack of coordination or bloodshot eyes. In such cases FSTs provide immediate evidence.
  • Early detection: Often times when people have just started drinking their Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) may not yet meet legal limits even though their driving might be affected.

One thing I’d urge everyone to remember is that refusing to perform FSTs when requested by law enforcement could lead to dire consequences including immediate arrest or suspension of your driving privileges. In the end, it’s not about passing or failing these tests as much as it’s about demonstrating that you’re in a condition to drive safely and responsibly.

The Science Behind Breathalyzer Devices

Let’s dive into the science of breathalyzer devices. How do these handheld gadgets measure alcohol concentration in one’s breath? It’s all about chemistry and infrared spectroscopy technology.

Breathalyzers are designed to estimate blood alcohol content (BAC) from a breath sample. When you drink, alcohol travels through your bloodstream and gets absorbed into your lungs via the alveoli – tiny air sacs responsible for exchanging gases. Therefore, when you exhale, a small fraction of the alcohol in your body is expelled as well.

Now here comes the role of breathalyzers. Upon blowing into this device, it analyzes this expelled air and determines BAC levels based on its chemical reaction with ethanol – the type of alcohol found in beverages.Most breathalyzers operate using either fuel cell or semiconductor sensor technology. In fuel cell sensors, an electrochemical process takes place where ethanol reacts with oxygen to produce electrical current. This current is directly proportional to the amount of alcohol detected in one’s breath, thereby providing an estimation of BAC levels.On the other hand, semiconductor sensors work by heating a tin dioxide material which changes resistance as it interacts with ethanol particles present in one’s exhaled air. This change in resistance gives an estimated reading of BAC levels.

However, it’s important to note that while these devices can provide a quick assessment on potential intoxication – they aren’t foolproof. Things like mouthwash containing alcohol or certain medical conditions can interfere with readings leading to false positives or inflated results.

It’s also worth mentioning that even if someone passes a Breathalyzer test with flying colors; there might still be impairment due to drugs other than alcohol that could go undetected since traditional Breathalyzers are not designed to catch those substances.

In summary:

  • Breathalyzers estimate blood alcohol content (BAC) from a breath sample.
  • They operate using either fuel cell or semiconductor sensor technology.
  • They aren’t foolproof and can be affected by things like mouthwash or certain medical conditions.
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Last modified: October 14, 2023