Modern breathalyser machines: a shot in the arm for police | Sunday Observer

Modern breathalyser machines: a shot in the arm for police

A modernised police force is essential to maintain law and in a country, while modern equipment and infrastructure is undeniably paramount for the effective functioning of law enforcement agencies.

DIG Palitha Fernando

In recent times, despite severe budgetary limitations and various other obstacles, the Sri Lanka Police has strived to upgrade its functions by obtaining the latest technology and equipment for the Police force.

The traffic division of the Police obtained 50 modern hand held breathalyzer machines before the Avurudu season to increase the checking of drunk drivers islandwide while many other detection machines such as drug detectors, tint meters, nightvision enabled speed guns are also expected to be introduced by the division shortly.

In fact, the newly obtained handheld machines are a first for the Sri Lanka Police, which until recently solely depended on disposable breathalyzer tests for drunk driving detections.

According to DIG Traffic Administration and Road Safety, Palitha Fernando the new machines are a much needed addition to the Police force which will better ensure road safety while enabling the Police to enforce the law unchallenged.

Today drunk driving remains one of the main causes of accidents on the country’s roads according to the Traffic Police. Despite being relatively low in numbers compared to other causes of accidents never the less drunk driving continues to be an epidemic plaguing the safety of motorists and pedestrians alike.

But drunk drivers can find themselves in serious trouble if caught by law enforcement officials due to the strict penalties in place. According to the Police while drivers charged with drunk driving are not granted Police bail, fines can range from Rs 3,500-7,500. The licence of an offender can be suspended for up to three months while a term of imprisonment too can be handed down for endangering the lives of others.

However, despite the stringent laws in place, heavy fines, extensive awareness programs and fatal accidents, they appear to have little deterred drunk drivers. In fact in 2016 the Police nabbed 51, 687 drivers for driving under the influence of alcohol while 80 lives were lost in accidents caused by intoxicated motorists.

This has, therefore, resulted in the Police stepping up drunk driving detections in the recent past as evidenced by the number of cases filed against errant motorists.

According to the Police, when a driver is reasonably suspected to be under the influence of alcohol, he is requested to comply and submit a sample of breath by blowing up the balloon which is part of the disposable test.

If the driver is not comfortable taking the test by the road side the Police say a driver is well within his rights to request the test be conducted at the nearest Police station.

As the alcohol chemically reacts with the potassium dichromate in the vial, if a colour change occurs it is determined that the driver is over the allowed alcohol limit of 0.06 grams. In fact the test concludes a driver has over 0.08 grams in 100 milliliters of blood resulting in him being charged with driving under the influence of alcohol by the Police.


While admissible by courts however the disposable breathalyzer tests have not been without its own issues. In the finals months of 2016 as the Police ran out of disposable breathalyzer stocks, delays in importing a new batch of test kits meant drunk driving detections were somewhat stalled during the time with Police being only left with the option of presenting suspected drunk drivers before a Government Medical Officer (GMO) for a medical test to be conducted.

According to the Police however this course of action remains problematic with the medical test conducted by a GMO is done by observing the physical state of the suspect at the time which cannot be evidenced scientifically as done through a breathalyzer test. According to a Police officer involved in detections many GMO´s are reluctant to give reports concluding the suspect is in fact intoxicated as if challenged by the suspect they will be required to be present in courts. ¨Therefore we rarely submit suspects to them now¨ he said.

New machines

However by obtaining the new hand held breathalyzer machines the Traffic Police not only hopes to modernize its equipment but also to resolve the various similar issues faced by them.

Though admitting that the number of machines is insufficient, according to DIG Traffic administration and road safety, Palitha Fernando, as an initial step the new machines are expected to increase drunk driving detections while also making the results near impossible to be challenge by violators. DIG Palitha Fernando told the Sunday Observer, that violators will be unable to challenge drunk driving detections made by the Police using the new equipment due to its modern technology. “Violators can see proof of the violation with results being issued in a matter of seconds in printed form through the inbuilt printer,” he said, adding that, therefore, motorists will find it almost impossible to dispute the results. According to him this is beneficial to the Police, the drivers as well as the courts as the exact results can be viewed by all parties concerned leaving no room for ambiguity.

While the new hand held

breathalyzer machines are expected to provide the Police with undisputable evidence due to the high accuracy of the new equipment, it also features many modern features such as gps, photo capture facilities and other updated functions with a recovery time between tests being a mere 30 seconds. According to DIG Fernando the machine will also be able to store around over 32,000 test results which can help the Police in the storage of evidence.

“We hope to obtain more similar hand held breathalyzer machines among others in the future to upgrade our functions” he said adding with these modernized equipment the Police will ensure better enforcement of road and motor traffic laws in Sri Lanka.