CAN A BREATHALYZER DEVICE BE TRICKED?
You may have heard the “tricks” to defeating a breathalyzer test: place a copper penny under your tongue when you blow into the device, drink mouthwash before being tested (surreptitiously, of course), eat breath mints, hold your breath or use other breathing techniques before or during blowing, burp while blowing into the machine (however that would be accomplished), and some other wacky tricks. None of them will work!
The breathalyzer, as it is commonly called, actually describes a number of different breath testing devices that use a variety of techniques to measure the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in a person’s blood. The device might employ a chemical test, but some devices use infrared spectroscopy or fuel cell technology. All of these devices require the subject to blow into a mouthpiece. The breath tested comes from the subject’s lungs.
As I explained in a previous post, alcohol is carried through the bloodstream, where it is metabolized by the liver. When the liver can’t keep up, more alcohol remains in a person’s bloodstream until the liver can do its work. (Now, admittedly, that is the simplified version but will have to suffice here.) Blood runs its course throughout the body, including the lungs. Science has come up with a way to assess the amount of alcohol in the blood (i.e., not yet metabolized by the liver) by measuring the amount of alcohol moving through the lungs, which can be detected by a person expelling breath from the lungs. However simplified this explanation, it still makes it obvious why the so-called tricks to defeat a breathalyzer will not work. The breathalyzer measures deep lung breath, not a shallow breath from the mouth. And trying to use breathing “tricks” such as trying to breathe from the mouth only will not work either because the device requires a certain quantity of breath that can only be summoned from the lungs. The cops will consider anything but a deep lung blow a refusal to take the test.
Of course, the best way to “beat” the breathalyzer test is to drive sober, but if your better judgment escaped you and you blow over the legal threshold, the breathalyzer results can sometimes be challenged. This is most often true when the breath results register very close to the legal limit. Breathalyzers are not always accurate; for example, there may be issues with the calibration of the device, the officer administering the test may not have followed protocol, or the device itself might have malfunctioned. While challenging the results of a breathalyzer test is not necessarily an easy defense, in some cases it might prove to be an effective defense.