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How to Trick a Breathalyzer: Myths

Police routinely use a handheld breath-alcohol concentration (BAC) device to determine whether suspected drunk drivers may be impaired. If the device registers a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher, the officer has probable cause for a DUI arrest. Actual evidence for a possible DUI case against the suspect is taken later, when a breath sample is analyzed by a larger, more-accurate alcohol-detection instrument at the station (commonly referred to by the "Breathalyzer" brand name). Nothing is perfect, but these instruments are subjected to rigorous testing and are considered reasonably accurate when properly used and calibrated.

While there are instances when it makes sense to challenge the evidence in a DUI case, motorists often wonder how to trick a Breathalyzer into providing a lower BAC reading. But despite numerous claims to the contrary -- sucking on a penny, for instance -- it's practically impossible to alter the results of a breath-alcohol test. The following information will help you separate fact from fiction with respect to "tricking" a Breathalyzer.

How Breath Testing for Alcohol Works: The Basics

Before looking at the various myths of how to trick a Breathalyzer, it's important to learn how these instruments work. While drinking, some of the alcohol that is absorbed into the bloodstream evaporates into the lungs as it moves through the alveoli (the tiny air sacs where gasses are exchanged). Most alcohol-detection instruments use a method called infrared spectroscopic analysis, in which the frequency of light waves absorbed by a suspect's breath vapor reflects his or her approximate BAC. The machine then translates this breath data into an estimated percentage in the bloodstream, since the two measurements rise and fall in proportion to one another.

Because motorists cannot voluntarily control this exchange of gases between the bloodstream and the lungs, masking agents (such as mints, mouthwash, or even copper pennies) will not change the level of detectable alcohol on one's breath. The portable roadside devices, known as alcohol screening devices (ASD), are not quite as accurate as the larger, evidentiary breath test instruments used at the police station after an arrest is made. Officers are instructed to wait 15 to 20 minutes prior to conducting a breath test in order to rule out skewed results from the ingestion of food, chewing gum, asthma inhalers, or other substances. Directly testing a suspect's blood is still the most accurate way to measure BAC levels.

The Myths: So You Think You Can Trick a Breathalyzer?

A DUI defendant may successfully challenge the results of a breath test if the instrument wasn't properly calibrated; the suspect had excess acetone on the breath, which is perceived as alcohol (common among diabetics); or if other outlying causes are to blame. But actively influencing -- and lowering -- one's estimated BAC level during a breath test is virtually impossible.

Here are some popular myths:

  • Sucking on copper pennies - Believe it or not, this urban legend has been circulating for some time, but has no merit whatsoever. Besides, pennies are made primarily of zinc.
  • Covering up the "smell" of alcohol - While alcoholic beverages often have a common odor, ethanol is actually odorless. So while chewing gum may cover up the smell of beer when talking to an officer, it won't trick a Breathalyzer.
  • Breath mints, breath spray, or mouthwash - As stated above, there is no way to mask a breath sample by covering up its odor; however, mouthwash or breath spray containing alcohol could actually increase your estimated BAC.
  • Drinking large amounts of coffee or water - Additional fluids will not adequately dilute the alcohol in your bloodstream; it takes time to metabolize alcohol. And coffee, while it may help you be more alert, will not lower your BAC.
  • Eating food - The assumption is that eating food will help absorb alcohol, but this won't have any effect on alcohol already in the bloodstream (and measured on the breath).
  • Hyperventilating or holding your breath prior to blowing - This theory actually has some merit, but would have to be done with precision and immediately prior to giving a sample, which would be witnessed by the officer.
  • Burping - It was once believed that this would skew results, but has since been debunked.

Have Questions About Myths Involving Tricking Breathalyzer Tests? Ask a Lawyer

If you've been charged with a DUI, even after sucking on a roll of pennies or holding your breath, you may want to explore your legal options. After all, a DUI conviction will result in license suspension, fines, and other sanctions. In order to get the best possible outcome at (or before) trial, it's a good idea to contact a DUI attorney near you today.

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