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Can You Beat the Breathalyzer?

25th April 2006
By Lance Knowlton in Legal
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Copyright 2006 Lance Knowlton

If you are ever suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol and pulled over by the police, you may be given a Breathalyzer test, which will be used to determine the level of alcohol concentration in your bloodstream. This device used by law enforcement, is portable, reasonably accurate, and gives almost immediate results.

Given the dire consequences drivers face if they fail such a test, there's a question that often arises among individuals who are concerned about the possibility of being caught drinking and driving; is there any way to fool the Breathalyzer into showing a lower reading?

Listed below are some common myths and facts about trying to beat the Breathalyzer.

Myth: Sucking on pennies. Most people know that sucking on a penny, or any other type of change, does not trick the Breathalyzer into registering a falsely low blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Even sillier is that people who believe it think the penny trick works because of the penny's high copper concentration. Pennies have been made of 97.5% zinc since the 1980s.

Myth: Breath Mints. The misguided notion that the smell of alcohol equals alcohol itself fuels the nonsensical belief that breath fresheners can fool a breath analysis test. All gums, mints and sprays do is mask the odor of alcohol on the breath, they do not change the alcohol content of the breath nor do they effect the chemical reactions used to determine the amount of alcohol present. All breath fresheners can do, particularly mouthwashes, is possibly increase the amount of mouth alcohol registered. Even though breath analysis tests have ways of distinguishing mouth alcohol from lung alcohol, the last thing a person would want to do is increase the BAC reading.

Myth: Belching. Many police officers believe that Breathalyzer results can be compromised if the subject belches while being tested, due to the increase in mouth alcohol caused by the belch. This belief is more fiction than fact. According to a 1992 University of Wisconsin study, belching had no effect on breath analysis test results even when subjects belched directly into the instrument.

Myth: Underwear and Feces. Yuck! It almost goes without saying that neither the consumption of underwear nor feces can trick a Breathalyzer into registering a lower BAC, but it is interesting to note that people have tried both. A 28-year-old Canadian man who was stopped on suspicion of drunk driving ate the crotch out of his underwear, believing that it would soak up the excess alcohol in his system. Another Canadian driver tried to foil a Breathalyzer test by eating his own feces. Either it didn't work or it had the opposite effect and increased the BAC readings. The machine registered a BAC that was more than twice the legal limit.

Myth: Zima. The alcohol in the sweet, pale, malt liquor beverage was thought to be undetectable by breath analysis machines. Zima leaves little alcohol smell on the breath, even though it contains as much alcohol as any normal beer, so people (usually the teens who drink the stuff) believed that the alcohol couldn't be detected by a Breathalyzer. Like breath fresheners, the alcohol remains even though the odor is not there.

That's a lot of myths. How about a factual way to decrease a BAC reading?

Fact: Hyperventilation. Breathalyzer results will vary depending upon the breathing pattern of the person being tested. In one study, subjects drank moderate amounts of alcohol after which their BAC levels were measured by gas chromatographic analysis of their breath. Then they took breath analysis tests using various breathing patterns. When the subjects held their breath for 30 seconds before exhaling, their BAC readings increased by over 15%. When they hyperventilated for 20 seconds immediately before taking the tests, their BAC readings decreased by over ten percent.

On the other hand, hyperventilating could make you dizzy and affect your performance on other common roadside sobriety tests, such as walking in a straight line or balancing on one foot.

These are just a small handful of the "beat the Breathalyzer" tales. What's the moral to most of these fables? If you think you can fool the Breathalyzer, you're probably just fooling yourself. If you really want to beat the breathalyzer, just don't drink and drive, and you'll have nothing to worry about.


Authored by L.E. Knowlton. For more great information on Breathalyzers and other drunk driving and alcohol information, please visit:

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