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To Blow or Not to Blow – Debunking Myths in DUI Testing

Posted On: April 20th, 2015   |   Posted by: Luftman, Heck & Associates LLP

As Columbus DUI lawyers, we are quite familiar with how breathalyzers work and – unfortunately – how often they don’t work. People have so many misconceptions about breathalyzers that can lead even innocent people to be arrested for a DUI. In order to help you decide whether or not to blow into a breathalyzer when you are stopped by the police, we’ve debunked the following top ten myths about breathalyzers and DUI testing for you here.

Chewing on gum or sucking on a mint will help you pass a breathalyzer if you are a little over the limit. While a minty fresh mouth may disguise the smell of alcohol on your breath, it doesn’t change the reading on the breathalyzer. In reality, alcohol is odorless. What we actually smell are common chemicals associated with the alcohol. So while a mint may make your breath smell better, it’s not going to do your BAC and favors when you blow.

Gargling mouthwash will help you get a better breathalyzer result. The concept is the same as above. Your breath may smell fresher, but the alcohol content in your breath isn’t going away. In fact, mouthwash actually can make your reading worse, because mouthwash is about 25 percent alcohol. If any remnants of the mouthwash are still around, it will add to anything you drank.

Eating food before you drive will lower your BAC. Eating may slow the absorption of alcohol into your blood before you start drinking, but it does nothing for you after you have already drunk any alcohol. Since the alcohol has already been absorbed by your stomach and moved into your bloodstream, your BAC won’t drop by snacking after you are already drunk.

Burping right before you blow (or into the breathalyzer) will lower your BAC reading. While this popular myth circulated the internet a few years ago, it has no truth whatsoever. According to a study by the University of Wisconsin, burping before, during, or right after a breathalyzer test has no effect on the reading whatsoever.

Sucking on a penny can invalidate the breathalyzer results. Several iterations of this myth exist. Some people think that the copper in a penny will confuse the machine into giving invalid results. Others have heard that it will actually lower your BAC. While this might have worked at one time, it has no validity anymore. Since older machines measured chemical oxidation to determine alcohol content, they were more susceptible to tampering. Now, however, breathalyzers use infrared light waves to detect the presence of alcohol. They are specifically calibrated to ignore other particles in your breath, including copper. Besides, pennies have very little copper in them nowadays to confuse the old machines anyways.

Holding your breath before blowing into a breathalyzer will lower your results. Since police will force you to blow hard from deep inside your lungs before taking a reading, the effects are minimal. You wouldn’t want to do this anyways, though. Mythbusters proved that holding your breath can actually raise your BAC reading by 20 percent.

Hyperventilating before a police officer asks you to blow into a breathalyzer will prevent you from being arrested. In reality, this myth comes from a kernel of truth. Studies have revealed that hyperventilating for 20 seconds before taking a breathalyzer can decrease your BAC reading by about ten percent. Unfortunately, a police officer will probably just ask you to breathe normally and take the test again. Plus, hyperventilating is a sign of panic, so it can actually be used against you in court as “proof” that you knew you were intoxicated.

If you only have two drinks, you will pass a breathalyzer test. Again, this has some truth, but isn’t entirely accurate. For some people, two drinks won’t register on a breathalyzer. For other people, especially women, two drinks give you a BAC reading above the legal limit on a breathalyzer. Some of this even depends on when you had your last drink. If a breathalyzer is poorly calibrated even the smallest bit, your BAC could easily register above the limit on a breath test, even if you could have passed a blood or urine test.

A breathalyzer provides an accurate measurement of your BAC. Breathalyzers are actually often inaccurate. There are many problems with the way they measure a person’s BAC. For one thing, breathalyzers make their readings based on the assumption that you have the same amount of alcohol in 2.1 liters of breath in your lungs as you have in 1 milliliter of blood. In reality, our lung capacities differ greatly from person to person. People with higher or lower lung capacities will have correspondingly lower or higher alcohol content in the same amount of breath. Plus, each machine has the potential to be calibrated wrong (and often are proven as such). Common issues interrupt their measurements, resulting in higher readings, including changing temperatures and a high level of machine use, which makes breathalyzers highly untrustworthy. Even a person’s natural body temperature and hormones can change a BAC reading.

You are required by law to consent to a breathalyzer test in Ohio or you could lose your license. Because breathalyzers have so often proven untrustworthy, the courts no longer require you to consent to a breathalyzer. While a police officer can require you to consent to a blood, urine, or non-breathalyzer breath BAC test or risk an administrative license suspension, field breathalyzer tests have proven so fickle that they are no longer considered a valid enough test to be required under implied consent laws.

If the courts don’t trust breathalyzers in the field, neither should you. While all of these myths are revealing, the most important thing to take away is that even if you don’t need to “cheat” the test, the test can betray you. Don’t risk a DUI conviction based on an inaccurate field BAC test. You have the right to politely refuse a field breathalyzer, so take it.

Unfortunately, too many people don’t know this fact when they are pulled over for a DUI. If you have been arrested for a DUI, evidence is often mishandled, whether or not you choose to blow. An experienced Ohio defense attorney can help you present your case in the right light and show where potential mistakes may have been made by the officers handling your case. If you have been arrested for a DUI in central Ohio, call the Columbus DUI lawyers at Luftman, Heck & Associates at (614) 500-3836 right away. Find out how we can help your specific case.

I can FINALLY breathe easy now. I want to thank Mr. Bowen and all the attorneys that helped me with this case.

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