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What is a Passive Alcohol Sensor?

If you're one of the many Baltimore residents who drives into Northern Virginia regularly or even occasionally for business or other reasons, it's important to know about a tool that Fairfax County police have to help determine whether a driver has been drinking. You may not even know that they're using it.

It's called the Passive Alcohol Sensor (PAS), but it's also commonly referred to as "The Sniffer." It looks like the regular flashlights that police carry, but it contains a small sensor that officers can activate when they stop a driver whom they have reason to suspect may be under the influence — and even if they don't.

One officer explained that "it has a little pump, and it pulls air, so when you pull a car over, it can pull out the ambient air and analyze whether or not there's alcohol in that air." If it detects alcohol, the officer still has to perform the traditional field sobriety tests before placing someone under arrest for suspected DUI.

Law enforcement agencies aren't the only ones that use the devices. They're also used by schools to help determine whether students attending athletic events and dances have been drinking.

This tool doesn't replace the Breathalyzer test or other field sobriety tests. However, it may give officers a reason to have a driver submit to those even if that driver is doing an excellent job of feigning sobriety. If you are arrested for DUI, your attorney can determine whether the officer was using a PAS. However, likely there is other evidence that he or she can challenge in court.

Source: WTOP, "New police tool looks like a flashlight, helps detect alcohol," Max Smith, accessed Sep. 29, 2017

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