CRESTVIEW — Motorists who seem a little too merry — and maybe not too bright — during the New Year’s holidays should know that if they’re pulled over for speeding or suspected impaired driving, the Crestview Police Department’s equipment is calibrated and certified to state safety specifications.
On Dec. 2 every patrol vehicle underwent state-mandated twice-annual speed detection calibration. During the test, an inspector from Florida Mobile Speed Testing drove each vehicle in turn onto a roller platform that kept the car or SUV stationary while the inspector revved the engine and compared the vehicle’s “speed” with its speedometer reading.
The cars’ front- and rear-facing radar units were then tested to assure they accurately register a target’s speed. Special tuning forks carried in each radar-equipped patrol vehicle, and electronic frequency generators simulate the speed waves produced by other vehicles.
That way, each unit can be assessed with a consistently accurate test instrument rather than taking it on the road and subjecting it to the inconsistencies of an oncoming test vehicle.
With the agency’s 35 patrol vehicles’ speedometers and radar units certified, it was time to calibrate and test the Police Department’s Intoxilyzer. The device registers a person’s alcohol level by shooting a light through the mist produced when a person exhales.
The Intoxilyzer is kept in a locked, secured room. Testing the machine is limited to only state-certified personnel, including Cmdr. Andrew Schneider, who performs the Crestview Police Department’s calibration and certification.
Testing uses pre-mixed solutions of purified water that respectively contained .05, .08 and .20 percent alcohol, simulating those specific amounts of alcohol in a suspect’s breath. A driver is considered intoxicated in Florida if his blood alcohol level reaches .08.
Each sample is warmed in a test cylinder to 34 degrees Celsius, which is body temperature. Control samples of plain purified water, as well as an alcohol rinse in Schneider's mouth, show both extremes the machine can encounter.
When an officer pulls over a motorist for suspected alcohol impairment, field sobriety tests — such as walking heel-to-toe on a straight line — and observation for tell-tale signs, such as the odor of alcohol on the suspect’s breath, determine if the officer brings the driver to the Police Department for testing on the Intoxilyzer.
The subject is observed for 20 minutes in a controlled environment before the test is administered to allow any strong alcohol in his mouth to dissipate. The observation also prevents the suspect from ingesting anything to attempt to distort the test, Schneider said.
With the Dec. 12 testing complete, the Intoxilyzer automatically dispatched the results to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in Tallahassee, which certified the results, authorizing the Police Department to continue using the machine.
The monthly Intoxilyzer calibration and twice-annual checks of patrol vehicles’ speedometers and radar equipment assure law-abiding drivers that when Crestview Police officers pull over dangerous motorists, the officers’ reports will stand up in court.
Of course, there is one way to avoid testing the machines’ accuracy.
“Don’t speed and don’t drink and drive,” Schneider said.