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Are Alcohol-Screening Machines (Preliminary Breath Test Devices – PBTs) Always Accurate?


There is another machine that I have tested demonstrated many times with clients and people wanting to check the accuracy of these tests, including news reporters who’ve been in my office. That machine is the Alco Sensor IV, which is carried by many of the police officers throughout the Bay Area and that’s a preliminary alcohol-screening machine, known as the Pas the P-A-S machine. That’s the device used in the preliminary test that’s done on the side of the road before they make the decision, the final decision, to arrest somebody for a DUI.

Those are the machines that are currently in my office. It’s nice to be able to understand how they work and show clients how they work. And just show how these machines are not the most accurate of devices. In fact there’s a twenty percent margin of error in breath testing.

Police Departments Use a Variety of Alcohol-Screening Equipment

Interviewer: Are these are all the ones that are used at the police station or are there any ones that are used at the road side like a preliminary device, before someone’s arrested?

Aaron: Both. The Alco Sensor IV is one that’s very often used on the side of the road. The police departments in the Bay Area carry the Alco Sensor IV and that machine is a preliminary alcohol-screening machine. It has fuel cell technology, unlike some of the other machines that you will see at the station, which have infrared technology. Most of the machines at the station have both fuel cell and infrared technology that are used to test someone’s blood alcohol levels.

Interviewer: What happens when you get clients in and they see the machines? Do they become agitated or do they say “Oh yes, that’s what they used on me, I recognize that?”

Aaron: I see a whole range of reactions. Sometimes clients want to see how it works. Most clients go “Yes, that looks familiar. Put it away, I don’t want to see it.” And then some will say “Well that’s not the machine that I was tested on.” And, of course, they are correct. There are other types of preliminary alcohol-screening machines.

I was just reviewing a police report today where my client was tested on a Life Lock machine. That is a preliminary breath-testing machine that a number of police departments are starting to obtain and use for these tests. I will also see clients who will look at the machine and not remember what kind of machine that’s being used because they just don’t remember.

Either they didn’t look at it, they knew they blew into something or, in some cases, people just don’t remember much. Because when you get arrested for a DUI it can be very scary. You can freeze up. You can just not remember things.

It’s a very difficult situation. It can be very terrifying and it is for most people. What happens right after that is you’re cuffed, you’re in a police car, you’re in jail for many hours and remembering all the details of what happened on the side of the road, it’s very easy to forget what happened when you get arrested for a DUI.

By Aaron Bortel

Aaron Bortel

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