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Colorado breath tests: An introduction

One of the most common questions we are asked is whether drivers can get in trouble if they refuse to take a breath test after being pulled over by police. Well, the answer to this question depends on a lot of things, including, but not limited to:

  • WHEN does the officer ask? Were you just pulled over, or have you already been detained/arrested because the officer has probable cause to believe you are intoxicated?
  • WHERE does the officer ask? Are you still sitting on the side of the road, or are you at the police station?
  • WHAT type of test is the officer seeking to administer? Are the police using a hand-held preliminary breath test (PBT), or are they trying to get you to take an official Breathalyzer/Intoxilyzer test?

Depending on the answers to these questions, you may (or may not) face penalties for refusing to take a breath test.

PBT vs. Breathalyzer: What is the difference — and why it matters?

If a police officer pulls over a driver, and the officer reasonably suspects that the driver is under the influence of alcohol, then the officer can ask the driver to submit to a roadside preliminary breath test (PBT). The whole point of this breath test is for the officer to establish probable cause for a drunk driving arrest.

However, Colorado law clearly states that a driver is free to refuse this PBT — not to mention that the officer is supposed to tell the driver that they can refuse if they want. In addition, the fact that a driver refused cannot be used against them later in court.

Alternatively, if the officer has probable cause to believe the driver is intoxicated/impaired, then Colorado law says that the driver is required to submit to a blood or breath test. In many cases, officers in this situation will ask the driver to take an official Breathalyzer/Intoxilyzer test, which often occurs back at the police station after the driver has been arrested.

Since these tests are required under the law, any driver who refuses can face significant penalties, including long-term license revocations.

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