Is It Really Possible to Beat a Breathalyzer Test?

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Is It Really Possible to Beat a Breathalyzer Test?

Field breathalyzer tests are one of the ways that police in Arizona assess whether you have been drinking before driving, and to get an estimate of what your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is.

Although field breathalyzer test results are not something that a prosecution will use as evidence against you in a DUI trial, Arizona is a “presumed consent” state when it comes to submitting to them. This means that if you refuse to submit to one, you are subject to penalties that include a driver’s license suspension for one year (two years for subsequent refusals within seven years of the first one), fines, community service, and even an ignition interlock device installation requirement.

Still, for almost as long as breathalyzer tests have existed, people have sought ways to alter their readings. Here we look at some of the more creative tricks and techniques that people claim will enable you to beat a breathalyzer test and offer our viewpoint on what your best course of action is if a police officer asks you to submit to one.

How a Breathalyzer Works

A breathalyzer measures the presence of alcohol in your breath, not in your mouth. The device measures the amount of ethanol in the breath sample and then uses an extrapolation formula to arrive at the concentration of alcohol in your blood that would be needed to produce the corresponding ethanol level in your breath.

Why Do People Try to Fool Breathalyzers?

As we mentioned above, because Arizona is an implied consent state if you refuse to give a breath sample when asked to do so you automatically become subject to punishments and penalties. So, if someone has been drinking and driving, the temptation exists to look for a way to provide a breath test sample while somehow avoiding a DUI arrest based on the result.

For those unfamiliar with how Arizona DUI laws work, using a gimmick to beat the breathalyzer device may also be the basis for a mistaken hope: that a manipulated breathalyzer reading of less than 0.08 BAC means they are in the clear, and the officer cannot proceed further with a DUI investigation.

What Are Some of the Ways People Use to Throw Off Breathalyzer Results?

There are many ways that people attempt to affect breathalyzer tests. Most of them supposedly act to interfere with the ability of the breathalyzer to accurately measure the presence of ethanol in the breath sample.

Some of these methods have a scientific grounding, at least in theory. Others, you may wonder what people were thinking when they came up with the idea. Some are actually counterproductive, and can artificially elevate your BAC level. Here are some of the most common ways that people have tried to use to beat the breathalyzer test.

Using Artificial Breathing Techniques

One method of trying to distort the breathalyzer sample is to try to change the breath sample itself as it enters the device.

Holding Your Breath

This method is not only ineffective in reducing the BAC level of the breathalyzer sample, it can increase it. This is because the longer air stays in your lungs, the more time ethanol has to build up in your lungs before you exhale.

Hyperventilation

Some evidence exists that hyperventilation, or rapid and forceful breathing, can lower breathalyzer results by about 10 percent. The idea behind hyperventilating is that by exchanging as much fresh air as possible into the lungs the concentration of ethanol in them can temporarily decrease.

The potential downsides of using hyperventilation as a way to distort breathalyzer results are that it looks suspicious and could cause problems of its own like dizziness. Remember, police officers are trained observers.

The officer who stops you based on suspicion of DUI will not ask you to breathe into the breathalyzer right away. Instead, the officer will be asking you questions and otherwise interacting with you and watching you. Seeing you hyperventilating may only serve to increase the officer’s suspicions. Further, if you are still dizzy from hyperventilating when the officer asks you to perform field sobriety tests, this will not make it easier for you to pass those tests.

Shortening Your Breath

This technique is based on the thinking that because ethanol molecules in your lungs will be more concentrated in the bottom of the lungs, if you stop blowing into the sample early that higher concentration won’t make it into the device.

This technique is unproven and would also require considerable lung capacity and breath control, as you could be bloating into the breathalyzer for several seconds before the officer tells you to stop. If you do not provide a satisfactory breath sample, the officer can have you provide another one, and another as needed.

Repeated failed breathalyzer samples can lead to suspicion on the part of the officer that you are effectively refusing to take the test.

Belching into the Breathalyzer

This technique rests on the hypothesis that air in your stomach contains less ethanol concentration than air in your lungs. In practice, however, burping into the breathalyzer has not proven to be effective in reducing the BAC result.

Using Masking Agents

Using masking agents like mouthwash, breath sprays, or breath mints is at best ineffective in affecting a breathalyzer test. A breathalyzer does not measure how your mouth smells and is unaffected by that.

As some of these products can also contain alcohol in small amounts, using them right before giving a breathalyzer sample can even be counterproductive.

Attempting to Interfere With the Operation of the Breathalyzer

Some people have relied on the misguided belief that if they can contaminate their mouth environment with a substance that interferes with how the breathalyzer operates they can cause it to give an inaccurate reading.

Perhaps the most widely known of such attempts is to place pennies in one’s mouth before taking the breathalyzer test. The theory is that copper from the penny will diffuse into the tissues of the mouth, and the copper will somehow throw off the breathalyzer.

There are multiple drawbacks to this approach:

  • First, it does not work. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that copper traces have any effect on the proper operation of a breathalyzer device.
  • Second, even if the idea had any scientific merit, in the U.S., pennies are made almost entirely of zinc, with less than three percent copper content.
  • Third, there may be more unhygienic things you can do than to put coins into your mouth, but there are not many. You have no idea where those coins have been.

Don’t Fear the Field Breathalyzer Test

Remember, a field sobriety test result is not by itself conclusive evidence of DUI that can be used in court. If the police officer arrests you for DUI at the scene, then that officer will be relying on multiple impressions to draw the conclusion that you are not sober, not just the breathalyzer sample.

Generally, if you have been pulled over in a traffic stop of any kind it helps to be cooperative with the police. Efforts to “game the system” in a DUI investigation by refusing to take a field breathalyzer test or to confound the test results will likely only heighten the officer’s suspicions and likely will not work in any event.

Also, the prosecution in a DUI case against you can use your refusal to take a field breathalyzer test as suggestive evidence that you did so based on a “consciousness of guilt”—that you knew you were intoxicated at the time and refused to take the test for that reason.

The alcohol and drug detection test you need to be more concerned about is the one that will be administered to you at the police station after the officer arrests you for DUI. There, none of the beat-the-breathalyzer strategies we have discussed above will be available in any event.

You can decline to take that breathalyzer test, too, but then the police can obtain a search warrant to take a sample of your breath, blood, or urine, so it may not do you much good to refuse. The police will get a sample from you in any event, and your refusal to give one voluntarily can be used against you in court.

Learn More About Arizona DUI Defense Strategies

Defending yourself against a DUI charge in Arizona is a serious matter that requires a serious defense strategy. If you are accused of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, then the best thing you can do is to exercise your right to call an experienced Arizona DUI defense law firm as soon as you can.

Trying to outsmart the police and prosecutors on your own is usually not a safe bet, and can even make things worse for you. Having a quality, board-certified DUI defense lawyer on your side can help even the odds against you.

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