Breathalyzer tests or chemical breath tests are one way for police officers to validate claims that someone decided to drive with an illegal amount of alcohol in their bloodstream. Police officers will often administer breath tests after traffic collisions and during targeted traffic stops as a means of establishing the probable cause necessary to arrest someone.
For as long as police departments have utilized chemical breath testing, there have been stories about how people can alter the outcome of the testing process. People share tips and tricks about how to alter the outcome of an alcohol breath test that people may then rely on during a traffic stop. Do any of those tricks actually work to alter the outcome of the test results?
Some tricks may skew test results higher
The goal of manipulating chemical breath test results would typically be to produce results that are under the legal limit for someone’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). However, some of the tactics that people recommend could actually have the opposite effect.
For example, using a breath spray or mouthwash immediately before performing a test or as an officer approaches a vehicle might introduce alcohol to someone’s mouth and respiratory system which will then increase the BAC reported when they perform a chemical test. The same is true of the practice of holding one’s breath before performing the test. These tactics might lead to an artificially inflated test result that all but guarantees someone’s arrest.
Many other tricks simply don’t work
Many people have heard the urban legend that having a copper penny under one’s tongue will influence the outcome of a breath test. There is zero credible evidence backing up this assertion. If anything, officers spotting a coin in someone’s mouth will likely suspect that the person knows they have had too much to drink. Other debunked urban legends about reducing one’s BAC include consuming charcoal pills or garlic. The claim that smoking a single cigarette prior to testing will reduce the results is also an inflated one. While some breath test devices may respond to high levels of acetaldehyde from tobacco use, many do not.
There are no proven means of manipulating a breath test to significantly and silently reduce someone’s BAC. Recognizing the shortcomings of breath testing during traffic stops can help people to make more informed choices as they plan to travel after drinking. This understanding can also help to inform a criminal defense strategy if an impaired driving arrest does occur.