When the police pull someone over on suspicion of drunk driving, it usually doesn’t take long for a breathalyzer device to come out. These small, hand-held machines can get a preliminary reading of a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level, which often serves as “probable cause” for an arrest.
Most drivers already have a pretty clear understanding of what breathalyzers do – but how they work has become the focus of a lot of urban legends. It’s not uncommon for people to hear stories about how somebody supposedly managed to trick the device and walk away from a drunk driving charge despite being inebriated. Are any of the stories you may hear actually rooted in reality?
None of these methods work
Breathalyzers are not perfect. They can be improperly calibrated. They can be faulty. The officer who administers the test can even make mistakes that affect the validity of a reading. However, all those urban legends that say you can trick a device are untrue. This includes:
- Chewing gum or mints: The idea here is to mask the alcohol residue in your mouth so that the device can’t pick it up, but breathalyzers are designed to measure deep lung alcohol content, so gums and mints are useless.
- Using mouthwash: If anything, this could cause your BAC reading to spike. Many mouthwashes contain more alcohol than you might imagine, and adding that to your system is just going to compound the problem.
- Drinking water: Chugging a bottle of water as soon as your car is stopped will help you feel hydrated, but it won’t do anything to dilute the alcohol in your system.
- Hyperventilating: There may be some truth to the idea that hyperventilating can skew the results of a breathalyzer test, but no officer is going to allow you to purposefully hyperventilate and then blow into the device. They’ll either make you take it again or find another way to get your BAC level.
- Sucking on a penny: The theory here is that the copper in a penny somehow reacts with the alcohol or the chemicals in the breathalyzer and affects the reading. This is a particularly widespread rumor, and it’s entirely fiction.
The only thing that will lower your BAC after you’ve been drinking is time. Mistakes happen, however. If you’ve been charged with drunk driving, it’s always best to fully explore your defense options by seeking legal guidance because it is entirely possible that any breath test you may have take may be inadmissible in court for one reason or another.