If police pull someone over and suspect the driver is intoxicated the officer will ask the driver to complete field sobriety testing. After the field sobriety testing the officer may ask the driver to blow into an alco-sensor to determine what the driver’s BAC (blood alcohol content) level is. Once the driver is arrested he or she will be taken to the police station to submit to another breath analysis in an intoxilyzer machine. Confusion often arises as to what the difference is between the alco-sensor test which is administered often at the scene of the traffic stop and the intoxilyzer breath test which is administered at the station. The two devices read out someone’s BAC but whatthey may be used for in the DWI process is different.
The alco-sensor is also known as the mini-breathalyzer. This is a handheld device which has a small tube on the top of it which someone who is suspected of DWI will blow into. Once the driver blows into it the police officer will have a digital reading of the BAC level within a few seconds. This reading is used by the officer to establish probable cause to make an arrest. The driver is not required by law to submit to the test, it is completely optional. The results of this test will not normally be used in court on behalf of the State to prove impairment.
The intoxilyzer test is the breath test that is normally administered at the police station. This is a bigger machine which has a larger tube connected to the side of it which the driver will blow in. This machine will give a printed read out of the driver’s BAC level within a few minutes. This test is required under the implied consent laws of North Carolina. Refusing to submit to this test will result in a separate charge.