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7 Misconceptions About Breathalyzers

Breathalyzers are as open to rampant misconceptions as anything else online and we aim to separate fact from fiction by setting the record straight on these 7 common breathalyzer misconceptions.

Misconception No. 1: You can mask alcohol or even lower blood alcohol content (BAC) readings on a breathalyzer by using breath fresheners, breath mints, and mouthwash.

Truth: Regardless of whether it’s gum, mints or a spray, breath fresheners only help to cover up the odor of alcohol, but they cannot do anything about the amount of alcohol present in your breath, which is what a breathalyzer measures. Some mouthwashes actually contain alcohol, meaning they will cause BAC readings to rise … but at least your breath will smell nice.

Misconception No. 2: You can beat a breathalyzer test by sucking on a penny.

Truth: This is an old urban myth and is absolutely false. Putting a copper penny (or any other form of currency, for that matter) in your mouth does not affect breathalyzer results in the least. (You also have no idea where that money has been so putting it in your mouth is just gross.) And while we’re dispelling myths here, no other magical formulas exist that will allow you to pass a breathalyzer when you’re drunk, whether they be herbal formulas, charcoal pills, garlic, or any other substances sold to gullible people to separate them from their money.

Misconception No. 3: Breathalyzers don’t work as well on smokers as they do on non-smokers.

Truth: It is true that acetaldehyde, an organic compound, occurs at significantly higher levels in the lungs of smokers than non-smokers. And it is also true that some non-professional grade semiconductor breathalyzers can be affected by extremely high acetaldehyde levels. However, law enforcement officials do not use semiconductor breathalyzers. They use professional grade fuel cell sensor breathalyzers, which are not thrown off by acetaldehyde levels or anything else. Fuel cell sensors are alcohol specific.

Misconception No. 4: You can beat a breathalyzer by hyperventilating, exercising, or holding your breath before you blow.

Truth: There have been studies that have shown that hyperventilation and vigorous exercise did indeed lower subjects' BAC readings by as much as 10%. However, holding their breath actually increased subjects’ BAC readings by up to 20%. These activities will also make you light-headed and gasping for breath, though, which call law enforcement official’s attention to the fact that you have a reason to want to alter your breathing. (And how are you going to engage in vigorous exercise in your car, anyway?) Also, not blowing hard into a breathalyzer won’t help you, either, as current air pump technology present in professional breathalyzers can provide accurate BAC readings even with small breath samples.

Misconception No. 5: Breathalyzer test results can be used in court.

Truth: Breathalyzers are primarily used as roadside screening tools to assist law enforcement officers in assessing drivers who they suspect of being intoxicated. Alcohol breath test results help an officer determine if a person should be arrested for suspicion of DUI, but these results are not always admissible in court.

Misconception No. 6: All breathalyzers are 100% accurate all the time.

Truth: While all commercial breathalyzers can determine if alcohol is present in a breath sample, the accuracy of these breath test results vary substantially. Breathalyzers are generally divided into the two categories of personal use or professional use. Professional-grade breathalyzers offer extremely high accuracy and sensitivity, and employ fuel cell sensor technology, the same technology that is used by law enforcement officials for roadside alcohol testing. Because prices for fuel cell units have dropped in recent years, they are becoming popular for personal use, too. Breathalyzers that use semiconductor sensors are usually associated with personal use because of the their lower price. All breathalyzers must be calibrated periodically in order to maintain accuracy, and failure to do this can affect BAC readings.

Misconception No. 7: Breathalyzers only measure alcohol and nothing else.

Truth: In semiconductor breathalyzers, substances that contain small amounts of alcohol, some mouthwashes and toothache medicines, for example, can produce false positives. Also, some personal breathalyzers may measure compounds that are similar in molecular structure to alcohol, such as acetone. Acetone is present in the breath of diabetics and people who are on high protein diets. False results can also be triggered by paint fumes, varnish, cleaning chemicals that contain rubbing alcohol, and some plastics and adhesives.


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