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Police using hidden alcohol sensors to sniff out drunk drivers

Law enforcement agencies throughout the country are beginning to use a new tool to aid in the combat of drunk driving. Officers are starting to implement the use "DUI flashlights."

While they appear to be normal flashlights routinely used during traffic stops, the sensors on the device, when put near a driver's mouth, can act as a preliminary breathalyzer test. A set of indicator lights on the flashlight tell an officer if the driver has been drinking lightly, moderately or heavily prior to getting behind the wheel.

But the use of these DUI flashlights raises many concerns. First, the flashlight does not offer a very accurate BAC reading. Rather, it tells an officer if they might have cause to pursue more precise testing, such as a field sobriety or breathalyzer test.

But if these devices are admittedly inaccurate, it is questionable whether they legally establish probable cause for a field sobriety test.

Furthermore, because these devices look like a flashlight, drivers do not know they are being tested. And police say they are not obligated to alert a motorist to the fact they are using them. Again, this might constitute a scenario where police are testing a suspect before they have probable cause to test them.

Police officers must rely on a number of factors to determine if a suspect is impaired. Simply smelling alcohol on the breath - whether with your nose or a DUI flashlight - may be a flimsy excuse to violate the rights of drivers everywhere.

Source:, "Alcohol-Detecting Flashlights Introduced in State College DUI Enforcement," Adam Smeltz, Sept. 27, 2011

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