Can Approved Screening Devices (ASDs), like the Alco-Sensor FST, malfunction when used to measure a driver’s BAC for IRP tests? The answer is yes, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. ASDs are sensitive scientific instruments and police use them at the roadside, rather than in a safe, clean laboratory.
A Bumpy Ride for ASDs?
Police calibrators check the accuracy of ASDs every 4 weeks in the safe environment of the office, but the devices spend most of the time in a police car, usually in the trunk, until they are needed for a test. The trunk of a police car can be a bumpy ride for an ASD and, when used at the roadside, they can be dropped, jarred, or battered. So ASD malfunctions happen.
Malfunctions happen when the device either can’t start or can’t complete a test sequence. Drivers may not even be aware if an ASD malfunctions. But a competent ASD operator should easily identify a malfunction, set the device aside, get another device, and carry on with the roadside test.
Sometimes though, an ASD malfunction, combined with a careless ASD operator, can present a real problem for a driver.
A few years ago while working at the RCMP Forensic Laboratory, I was preparing a group of ASDs for an upcoming training course. The repair agency had just serviced and returned one of the ASDs. I turned it on, started a test sequence, and blew into the device. But the device didn’t take my breath sample! No matter how hard I blew, the ASD would not analyze my breath!
It turned out the device was not measuring my breath flow properly. I blew enough breath for a sample, but the ASD didn’t recognize that. It had been working properly when it was shipped from the service depot, but not when it arrived at the lab. Something went wrong in transit. I sent the ASD back for repair and service, but I wondered: what if that malfunction had happened at the roadside?
Would an officer have assumed the driver was refusing to blow?
As a retired ASD trainer, I know the procedures ASD operators must follow. There is a procedure to ensure that an ASD malfunction such as the one above does not get mistakenly identified as a Refusal. However in many IRP narratives I review, I find no evidence the operator checked the ASD for this kind of malfunction, even though it is required.
Adjudicators will revoke an IRP when I can identify critical omissions such as this one. My example is only one of the many issues I look for when reviewing IRP disclosure documents, and is one of the many ways an IRP can be successfully challenged.