The Odor of Alcohol: Enough to Arrest?

Police may not be able to detect the odor of alcohol on the breath of drivers who are pulled over for investigation, a recently reported study shows.

The odor of an alcoholic beverage on the breath of a driver is very often used by police to form the reasonable belief that the driver has alcohol in his or her body. An officer who forms this belief can demand that the driver provide a sample of breath into a PBT (portable breath testing device). A driver who registers positive on the PBT will be arrested for driving under the influence and taken for breath tests to determine the amount of alcohol in his or her system.

In a recent study, twenty experienced police officers were asked to detect the odor of an alcoholic beverage on the breath of 14 subjects who had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) ranging from .00 to .130. In the experiment the drinking subjects were hidden from view.  Only the breath from each subject was available to each police observer.

The odor of an alcoholic beverage was detected in two-thirds of the subjects for BACs below .08, and 85% of the time when BACs exceeded .08. After food consumption by the drinking subjects, the police observers were less successful in detecting the odor of alcohol. In addition, the police were unable to recognize what type of beverage was consumed and it was found that the strength of the odor as noted by police bore no correlation to BAC levels.

Written by Allen Trapp who is board certified by the National College for DUI Defense and the author of Georgia DUI Survival Guide Visit Website

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