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Preliminary alcohol screenings explained

The common image that comes to mind when people in Hot Springs contemplate the term "field sobriety tests" is likely that of one blowing into a handheld breath testing device. Yet do such devices themselves constitute field sobriety tests, or do they meet the standard if chemical testing (which everyone is required to submit to due to the state's implied consent law)? The answer is that such a test technically does not qualify as either. 

In order to comprehend just how measuring BAC through a breath sample works, one must first understand the common misuse of the word "breathalyzer." To most, breathalyzer is name applied to any device that measures one's breath. In reality, there are two different types of BAC testing involving breath. Chemical testing is done using advanced equipment (used in a controlled environment) to obtain a precise blood-alcohol concentration. While the equipment used to conduct such testing is what technically qualifies as a breathalyzer, that is typically not its actual name or even brand name (per the Arkansas Department of Health, the actual device approved for chemical breath testing in the state is the Intoximeter EC/IR II). 

Breath tests given on the roadside are actually referred to as "preliminary alcohol screenings." The handheld devices used to administer them are often called "alco-sensors." They administer more of a qualitative test than a quantitative one, meaning that their primary purpose is to detect the presence of alcohol rather than its exact concentration. Thus, the results of preliminary alcohol screenings are usually not admissible in court. Indeed, according to Section 5-65-207(b) of the Arkansas Code, measurements obtained using equipment that does meet the standard of determining a reliable BAC (which may include alco-sensors) cannot be used as evidence of intoxication. 

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