Explaining Breathalyzers And Breath Sampling

There are two routes to the police station for a breathalyzer test.

The RIDE Program
The first one that we all see, particularly around Christmas time, is the RIDE Program. When your vehicle is stopped in a RIDE spot check, the officer will stick his head inside the driver’s window to try to smell your breath. If they detect an odour of an alcoholic beverage on your breath, then they reasonably have a suspicion that you have alcohol in your system.

The other way that they find out if you have alcohol in your system is they ask you, “Have you had anything to drink tonight?” And if you respond positively, then that obviously gives them a reasonable suspicion that you have alcohol in your blood. All they need is a suspicion and when they have a suspicion that you have any alcohol in your system, the police officer can make a demand that you provide a sample of your breath into an approved roadside screening device. These devises are set to fail at 100mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, which is 20mg over the legal limit.

If a person fails the screening device, the officer has reasonable grounds to believe now that the person is Over 80 and, therefore, what will follow is an arrest on a charge of Over 80 and off you go to the breathalyzer room at the nearest police station.

It’s important to know that refusing or failing to provide a breath sample at the roadside or the police station is a criminal offense of refusing to blow and it carries exactly the same penalty as if you were impaired or Over 80.

Observed Irregularity in Driving
The second way someone can be faced with a breathalyzer test occurs when a person is pulled over because either a police officer or some other citizen has noted some irregularity in someone’s driving and called the police. When the person gets pulled over by a police officer, the police officer really looks for the indicia of impairment such as the odour of alcohol, bloodshot or glassy eyes, slurred speech, unsteadiness on their feet, fumbling with papers, etc. If the officer finds those indicia of impairment, then he will conclude, reasonably, that the person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired by the consumption of alcohol. Once they reach that conclusion about impairment, the officer will arrest the person for Impaired Driving and off you go to the breathalyzer room at the police station.

At the side of the road, police officers could ask you to do roadside tests, such as, walk the line heel-to-toe, touch your finger to your nose and so on. A person is not required to take those tests. A police officer can ask you, but he cannot compel you to take those tests. So, if you are stopped and a police officer wants you to do some physical sobriety test, politely decline. You are not required to do so and my advice is not to perform any physical tests at the side of the road.

At the police station, the breathalyzer machine or Intoxilyzer gives the police a more accurate reading of a person’s blood-alcohol concentration. This is not the same as the device the police use at the side of the road or in a RIDE program. The roadside device gives the officer reasonable grounds to believe you are committing an offense, but it’s not an offense to fail a roadside device. In contrast, the breathalyzer machine, which is a more precise machine, used in controlled conditions such as in a room with constant lighting and constant temperature, gives a more accurate reading of a person’s blood alcohol concentration. When a person fails that test, it’s an offense.

The first opportunity that you will be given to speak to a lawyer is before you take the breathalyzer test at the police station.

If you, or someone you care about, is dealing with criminal law issues in the Newmarket, Ontario Region, contact Hobson & Reeve Barrsiters for a consultation.

This article is taken from a November 6, 2007 interview with Dennis J. Reeve LL.B., Criminal Lawyer with Hobson & Reeve, Newmarket, Ontario Criminal Lawyers. Note that laws vary from province to province. Please consult with a lawyer in your own area to be sure of the laws and specific issues in your own jurisdiction.