As early as 1874, research considered the possibility of detecting a person’s alcohol content via their breath. In 1931, Dr. Rolla Neil Harger from the Indiana University School of Medicine developed the drunkometer, the first practical roadside breath-test device. The drunkometer could detect the presence of alcohol in a person’s breath but could not actually show their blood alcohol content. In 1953, Robert F. Borkenstein worked with Dr. Harger to develop a smaller, easier to use device known as the breathalyzer. Upgrades to the device used infrared radiation and eventually fuel cells and microchips, but the name still stuck.
Today the breathalyzer is one of the most invaluable tools for identifying drunk driving and providing an objective, accurate measure of a person’s blood alcohol content. Many drivers are under the assumption that you can manipulate breathalyzers in cars or an authorities breathalyzer test through various means. Let’s take a closer look at how breathalyzers work and how you can pass a breathalyzer test.
How Do Breathalyzers Work?
So, how do breathalyzers work? Dr. Harger’s original design for the drunkometer used a balloon, which collected a person’s breath sample. This was then pumped through a potassium permanganate solution, which changed color in the presence of any alcohol. The more extreme the color change, the more alcohol in the breath sample. It was an effective system for determining if a person had alcohol in their bloodstream, but it did not do so well at actually measuring a person’s level of intoxication nor could it measure their blood alcohol content.
We have come a long way since balloons filled with human breath. Today, breathalyzers use complex fuel cells. These fuel cells use two platinum electrodes surrounding an acidified electrolyte material. When you breathe into the breathalyzer, any alcohol in your breath is oxidized by one of the platinum electrodes, producing protons, electrons, and acetic acid.
Electrons are sent to an electric current meter and the other platinum electrode. The protons move into the lower chamber of the device, combining with electrons and oxygen to create water. Essentially, more oxidized alcohol creates a larger electrical current. A microprocessor in the breathalyzer can measure the current and calculate the blood alcohol content level from it.
Blood Alcohol Concentration and Your Breath
Before breathalyzers, the main means of measuring your blood alcohol content or concentration involved either your blood or your urine. Although both were fairly accurate, neither is particularly reasonable for officers on the side of the road.
When you imbibe, the alcohol gets absorbed into your bloodstream via your mouth, throat, intestines, and stomach. Alcohol doesn’t change much chemically when it enters your bloodstream. It is also relatively volatile, meaning it evaporates easily given your internal body temperature. As it flows over around your lungs, the alcohol evaporates into your lungs and gets stored within small sacs known as alveoli. When you exhale, the alcohol-rich air in these sacs is detectable given the right equipment.
The alcohol in your alveoli is also directly related to a BAC ratio of about 2,100 to 1. This means that about 2,100 milliliters of alveolar air will have around the same amount of alcohol as 1 milliliter of your blood.
Since the dawn of breathalyzers, people have come up with a wide range of tricks and strategies to “fool” breathalyzers. Here are some of the most popular. Spoiler: none of them actually work.
Holding Your Breath
Don’t hold your breath for this trick. Keeping your breath held in actually gives alcohol more time to diffuse within your lungs. This will actually increase your BAC readings up to 15 percent when you do breathe out.
Burps come from your stomach, and gas from your stomach should contain a lower concentration of alcohol than your lungs, right? That might seem fine in theory, but your burps still contain some air from your lungs. Burping will likely show the exact same or higher BAC readings.
Gum or Mints
Chewing gum or sucking on a mint will cover up your breath, but it won’t do much to hide your BAC.
People still believe that sucking on pennies will somehow throw off breathalyzer readings. The reasoning behind this ranges. Some people believe that the copper in pennies has a chemical reaction with the alcohol in your breath to eliminate the alcohol that comes out of your mouth. Some people believe that the copper actually coats your mouth to mask actual blood alcohol levels. Some people think that the pennies will give a lower reading, while others think the pennies will just confuse the breathalyzer.
In reality, there’s little evidence to suggest that copper has any sort of reaction with alcohol. Even if it did, the modern penny contains more zinc than copper. A mouthful of pennies isn’t exactly hard for an officer to notice either. More than anything, you’re just introducing a choking hazard into your life.
Field Sobriety Tests
The main reason that none of the above will work is that they assume that the breathalyzer is the only and primary means that an officer determines your state of drunkenness. Although breathalyzers are effective in detecting BAC, they are by no means the only way that officers measure your level of intoxication. This is where field sobriety tests come into play.
Field sobriety tests can vary from officer to officer, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed three main tests that are considered standard and usable as evidence in court.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
Nystagmus refers to an involuntary shaking in your eyes that is most prominent at the very edges of your vision. When you’ve been drinking, nystagmus appears at less severe angles. In order to test this, the officer will tell you to follow an object with your eyes. This could be a pen, flashlight, or finger. The main thing they’re watching for is eye shaking characteristic of nystagmus. If you’re not drunk, you should be able to follow the object with your eyes smoothly.
Nystagmus occurring at 45 degrees off center is a big red flag, an immediate indicator that you likely have a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher. However, there are other reasons that a person could have nystagmus, including certain medications, which is where the other sobriety tests come in.
In this test, the officer will most likely ask you to walk in a straight line, heel to toe, for nine steps while counting out loud and keeping your eyes down. After the ninth step, pivot on one foot and walk nine steps, heel to toe, to end up back where you started.
While this does test your coordination, the walk-and-turn test is more about testing divided attention. Alcohol has a severe effect on your striatum, the part of the brain responsible for helping you multitask. The effects are especially significant when you have to perform both physical and mental tasks at the same time. Alcohol also affects your hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for creating and storing memories, like new instructions, for instance. You can’t follow instructions if you can’t even remember them. The main things the officer is looking for include:
- Keeping your balance while taking instructions
- Stopping to regain your balance in the middle of walking
- Beginning before they have even finished giving instructions
- Failing to touch heel to toe
- Stepping off your straight line
- Using your arms to balance
- Not turning properly
- Not taking the right amount of steps
During the one-leg-stand, the officer will ask you to stand on one foot and count out loud for 30 seconds until instructed to lower your other foot and return to normal. Similar to the walk-and-turn test, the one-leg-stand evaluates your divided attention, ability to remember instructions, and your general balance. The main things the officer is looking for include:
- Using your arms to balance
- Hopping on your foot to balance
- Putting your foot down
These three tests combined are 91 percent accurate according to the NHTSA. However, even beyond field sobriety tests, many officers have enough training and experience to determine if you are drunk or sober just by talking to you. Slurred speech, an inability to focus, and the smell of alcohol are easy to detect.
How to Actually Pass a Breathalyzer Test
The secret to actually beating a breathalyzer: don’t drink and drive. There really are no tricks or strategies. Breathalyzers are advanced tools that are frequently calibrated and checked for accuracy and proper function.
You are within your right to refuse a breathalyzer test, though that can come with its own can of worms. Almost every state has penalties for test refusals. These test refusal penalties are always more severe than the penalties for simply failing the test. There isn’t much to be gained by refusing a test as officers can easily use other evidence, like the field sobriety tests, in court. Some courts may actually see your test refusal as evidence they can use against you.
Take all that time you spend thinking of complex strategies for fooling the breathalyzer and invest it into planning ahead. Find a designated driver, keep a cab or rideshare service in your phone, or make use of public transit. Consider spacing out your drinks or just not drinking at all. Just please stop putting pennies in your mouth.
How do you beat a cheap breathalyzer? ›
You can beat a breathalyzer by hyperventilating, exercising, or holding your breath before you blow. Fact: An often-cited decades-old study found that hyperventilation and vigorous exercise did indeed lower subjects' BAC readings by as much as 10%.Does drinking water help pass a breathalyzer? ›
Our research shows that manipulations can alter BrAC readings. Specifically, hyperventilation and drinking water before using the breathalyzer were shown to significantly lower the BrAC readings.How can I lower my BAC fast? ›
- Coffee. ...
- Cold showers. ...
- Eating and drinking. ...
- Sleep. ...
- Exercise. ...
- Carbon or charcoal capsules.
Ignition Interlock Devices Are Sensitive
That's one drink. And if the device detects alcohol at a lower level, you will be allowed to start the car, but the device will give you a warning, which will be recorded.
In short, using peanut butter to beat breathalyzer tests isn't an effective solution, and here's why: high levels of sodium found in peanuts and other legume by-products will neutralize ethanol (or alcohol) — but not by much.How many hours after drinking can I pass a breathalyzer? ›
Generally, a breathalyzer test can test positive for alcohol for up to 12 hours after consuming one alcoholic drink. The average urine test can also detect alcohol 12-48 hours later. If your BAC is 0.08, it will take approximately 5 hours to metabolize the alcohol completely before you can become “sober” again.What BAC does interlock fail? ›
What Happens if You Fail an Interlock Test? You need to keep your BAC below 0.02% to pass the initial breath test. If you fail a breathalyzer in your car, your vehicle will not turn on and you'll have to wait sometime before you can take the test again.How do you pass an interlock the next morning? ›
Plenty of sleep is definitely a good idea. Sleep itself doesn't make alcohol disappear. It simply allows a longer period of time to go by before you take your interlock test the morning after drinking. That gives your body more time to eliminate any alcohol in your system.What causes false positive interlock? ›
Gas at high levels can also lead to a false positive. Further, diabetics and those on certain high protein diets that raise acetone levels may experience a false positive too. As a result, the IID or PAM mistakes the residue of various products and the results of certain foods or diets as evidence of intoxication.What neutralizes alcohol on the breath? ›
Gargle with an alcohol-containing mouthwash
A good gargle with mouthwash can definitely help mask the smell of booze on your breath temporarily. While most rinses will do the trick, you might get better results from fighting fire with fire.
Does mouthwash help you pass a breathalyzer? ›
In a study performed in 1994, researchers found that mouthwash use can affect breathalyzer readings. As many forms of mouthwash have high percentages of alcohol content (some with more than 20%,), researchers discovered that the use of mouthwash could cause a breathalyzer to show that someone is drunk.Does Listerine Help With breathalyzer? ›
Alcohol-based mouthwash products, like Listerine, can cause you to fail a Breathalyzer test for as long as 10 minutes after use. If you're a driver under the age of 21, the effect could last even longer since the blood alcohol content thresholds are even lower for an underage DWI.Can you fail a breathalyzer test without drinking? ›
For example, if you have the rare condition known as auto-brewery syndrome, you might fail a breath test without having anything to drink. Even more common conditions, like diabetes, can affect chemical breath testing. In fact, diets like the keto diet could also result in a false positive on a chemical breath test.How much does your BAC go down in 2 hours? ›
How Fast Can You Sober Up? Alcohol leaves the body at an average rate of 0.015 g/100mL/hour, which is the same as reducing your BAC level by 0.015 per hour.Does caffeine lower BAC sooner? ›
Caffeine has no effect on the metabolism of alcohol by the liver and thus does not reduce breath or blood alcohol concentrations (it does not “sober you up”) or reduce impairment due to alcohol consumption.Does heavy breathing lower BAC? ›
Breathing patterns can reduce or lower BrAC
As he explains, hyperventilating and breathing deeply can reduce the breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) by 11 percent and 4 percent respectively while holding your breath can actually increase the BrAC reading by 6 to 12 percent.
Alcohol could stay in your breath sample for about 24 hours. One standard drink could result in a positive test for up to 24 hours, depending on your burn-off rate. On the other hand, A urine test can detect alcohol in your system up to 12-48 hours later.Will I pass a breathalyzer after 15 hours? ›
Because alcohol metabolism is different for everyone, there is no single answer as to how long a breathalyzer can detect alcohol in a person's system, but in general, a breathalyzer can first detect alcohol in a person's system about 15 minutes after it has been consumed and up to 24 hours later.How does interlock know its you? ›
Many include micro-camera technology that records who is providing a test to the device. Many have GPS technology to record exactly where a test was taken. All ignition interlocks require random retesting when the vehicle is running.Does caffeine affect breathalyzer? ›
While it might come as a surprise, the over-consumption of caffeine could trigger a false positive on a breathalyzer test.
How long does it take to get to 0.00 BAC? ›
The only thing that sobers you up is time. After a big night out you may still be over your legal alcohol limit for much of the next day. After a heavy night of drinking, it can take more than 18 hours for your blood alcohol concentration to get back to zero.How long does 3 drinks stay in your system breathalyzer? ›
Alcohol detection tests can measure alcohol in the blood for up to 6 hours, on the breath for 12 to 24 hours, urine for 12 to 24 hours (72 or more hours with more advanced detection methods), saliva for 12 to 24 hours, and hair for up to 90 days. The half-life of alcohol is between 4-5 hours.Will 1 beer show up on a breathalyzer? ›
Is one beer enough to fail breathalyzer? Thus, one 12-ounce can of beer, one 4-ounce glass of wine, or one normal mixed drink or cocktail are all equally intoxicating, and give the same blood alcohol content (BAC) reading on a breathalyzer.What foods set off interlock? ›
- Spicy Foods. Spicy meals are constantly used as an example that will cause 'false positive' results in Interlocks. ...
- Sugary Foods. One of the most common culprits is yeast. ...
- Fruit & Fruit Drinks. ...
- Vinegar. ...
- Energy Drinks. ...
- Vanilla Extract. ...
- Mouthwash. ...
- Breath Spray.
How many drinks is 0.25 BAC? At 180 pounds, a woman would reach a BAC of around 0.25 by consuming ten drinks in two hours.What does violation 1 mean on intoxalock? ›
1. Failed breath sample. This is the most common cause of lockouts. If you blow into the device and provide a sample with a breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) above what's allowed in your state, it will be read as failed and you won't be able to start your car.How long will 2 beers show up on a interlock? ›
Breathalyzer tests: Breathalyzer tests are commonly utilized by law enforcement agents to determine whether an individual is "over the legal limit" (0.08 BAC) for driving. The ETG test will likely be able to detect even that small amount of alcohol (2 beers at 0.5%) in that short amount of time (24 hours).Can you drink the night before with interlock? ›
While you can drink the night before an interlock test, you should do so responsibly.Can I pass a breathalyzer after 6 hours? ›
Given the general rule, if your blood alcohol content is at the limit of 0.08, it would go down to 0.065 after one hour. It would take roughly five hours and twenty minutes for your body to completely metabolize the alcohol and eliminate it from the body.Will toothpaste set off interlock? ›
Because the devices are very sensitive, they can detect even small amounts of alcohol which may be present in substances such as food or toothpaste. Due to this it is recommended that you do not eat or drink ten minutes before taking a test and while driving.
Does coffee affect ignition interlock? ›
Coffee has been known to produce false positive ignition interlock readings.Does eating affect a breathalyzer? ›
How Does Eating Effect BAC? Eating before, or during the course of drinking, slows the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into a person's body. This decrease in absorption means less alcohol enters the bloodstream, as compared to the situation when no food is eaten.How can I hide alcohol in my body? ›
- In a Book. Nobody reads anymore. ...
- In a Smuggle Mug. ...
- In an Accessory-Shaped Flask. ...
- In Strategically-Placed Airplane Bottles. ...
- In Your Booze Belly. ...
- In Her Wine Rack. ...
- In a Hand Sanitizer Dispenser. ...
- In a CamelBak.
Conclusion: We recommend brushing teeth before the 14C urea breath test since it significantly decreased the ambiguous results of the test in our laboratory.What does gum do to a breathalyzer? ›
Chewing gum prior to a breath sample gives a null result on breath alcohol screening devices in the vast majority of cases. A positive result is not due to sugar alcohols found in sugar-free gums but rather to the small amount of ethanol present.Can you pass a breathalyzer with gum? ›
"No, gum can't trick a breathalyzer. Yes, there is sugar alcohol in gum, but the breathalyzer registers ethyl alcohol, not sugar alcohol." To prove it, I blew into the breathalyzer at the beginning of the interview, stuck a piece of gum in my mouth and blew again 1:45 later. Still, I registered . 00.Will hydrogen peroxide set off a breathalyzer? ›
Considering that hydrogen peroxide (3–10 volumes), often used as a mouthwash (mouth rinse), is a fairly powerful oxidizing agent and that ethanol acts as a reducing agent, it can be inferred that it can be an effective method when facing a breathalyzer test.Can you outsmart a breathalyzer? ›
This means that a breath test machine must test this deep lung air in order for the results to have any meaning in court. Because of this, in order to beat the breath test, all you need to do is replace this deep lung breath that is saturated with alcohol with air from the room containing no alcohol.Can peanut butter beat a breathalyzer test? ›
In short, using peanut butter to beat breathalyzer tests isn't an effective solution, and here's why: high levels of sodium found in peanuts and other legume by-products will neutralize ethanol (or alcohol) — but not by much.How long after drinking can you pass a breathalyzer test? ›
In Your Blood: Up to 6 hours. On Your Breath: 12-24 Hours. In Your Urine: 12-24 Hours.
Will vinegar set off a breathalyzer? ›
First, it's important to understand how the BAC test works. When you blow into a breathalyzer, it measures the amount of ethanol (alcohol) in your lungs. However, if there is any other type of alcohol in your mouth – such as red wine vinegar – it can also be detected and will skew the results of the test.Does toothpaste help with breathalyzer? ›
If you've used a product that contains alcohol, the Breathalyzer might detect the alcohol concentration and report a false positive. Products that contain alcohol include toothpaste, aftershave, hand sanitizer, bleach, mouthwash, perfume and cologne. Even spraying bug repellent on yourself can produce a false positive.Will throwing up help pass a breathalyzer? ›
If you belch, hiccup, or vomit before a breathalyzer test, then you may register a higher alcohol reading than is accurate. Law enforcement officers are required to constantly observe a DUI suspect to make sure this does not happen. If you do any of these things then you should not be tested for at least 20 minutes.How long does it take to get to 0 BAC? ›
After a big night out you may still be over your legal alcohol limit for much of the next day. After a heavy night of drinking, it can take more than 18 hours for your blood alcohol concentration to get back to zero. Many people are booked for drink driving the next day.Will 2 drinks show up on breathalyzer? ›
Breathalyzer tests: Breathalyzer tests are commonly utilized by law enforcement agents to determine whether an individual is "over the legal limit" (0.08 BAC) for driving. The ETG test will likely be able to detect even that small amount of alcohol (2 beers at 0.5%) in that short amount of time (24 hours).