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What All Drivers Should Know Before Taking a Preliminary Breath Test in Virginia

Darwyn L. Easley
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Attorney and Counsellor at Law

You knew you had run a red light, but you were still frightened and embarrassed when a policeman pulled you over. You admitted to the mistake, and said that you were merely in a hurry—but then he produced a breathalyzer and demanded you take it. Can you be ordered to submit to a breath test even if you haven’t been drinking?

What Drivers Should Know About Preliminary Breath Tests in Virginia

After you are pulled over on a suspicion of drunk driving, a police officer may request that you submit to a preliminary breath test (PBT). The PBT, often called a breathalyzer, is a handheld device that measures a person’s blood alcohol content based on their breath. A driver blows into a tube connected to the machine; if his reading is .08 or higher, he can be arrested for drunk driving.

While the process may seem straightforward, there a few things you should know before taking a PBT in Virginia:

  • A PBT is voluntary. Unlike in many other states, drivers cannot be compelled to take a PBT in Virginia. However, many police officers do not tell drivers that a PBT is voluntary.
  • A PBT may react to substances other than alcohol. A driver who has recently chewed gum, used breath spray or mouthwash, or who suffers from gastric problem can show increased alcohol content on a PBT.
  • A PBT has specific testing procedures. The PBT device must be handled properly, cleaned between uses, serviced regularly, and calibrated before use to avoid false positives and other errors in the results.
  • A PBT is not admissible in court. As roadside breathalyzer machines can give inaccurate readings for a number of reasons, the results of these tests are usually not admissible as evidence in court.

While you may be able to refute the results of a portable breathalyzer test, the rules are slightly different for a test administered at the police station. The second or evidentiary breath test is more accurate than handheld devices, is not optional, and the results can be used as evidence in your case. To find out how to fight the evidence against you, contact the legal team at the Easley Law Firm at (888) 386-3898 or learn more about your rights in our free guide, The Criminal Legal Process In Virginia.

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