Sucking on a Penny & Other Breathalyzer 'Cheats'

You may have heard that chewing gum, sucking on a penny, swigging mouthwash, eating a breath mint or chugging water can help you "cheat" a breathalyzer test. Unfortunately for anyone who was relying on this to get out of a DUI arrest and conviction, these methods do not work.

Breathalyzer tests measuring a subject's breath alcohol using infrared light. The subject breathes into the machine, and a breath sample is collected in a chamber in the device, which passes the infrared light wave through the sample to determine the level of alcohol in the subject's breath.

The subject's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is then derived from this information. The purpose of the instrument is to measure the level of alcohol from deep within a person’s lungs. Though it may seem that there should be ways to manipulate a breath test reading, chewing gum or consuming a breath mint may only affect one's mouth alcohol level, if anything at all.

Through the years people have tried all types of methods to beat breath tests and avoid DUI convictions. Snopes has an interesting article on the subject, citing a few strange incidents where drivers seemed willing to try anything to avoid a DUI, including:

  • In 1985, the arresting officer in a DUI case in Alberta testified that a driver he arrested on suspicion of drunk driving began eating his underwear in the back of the police cruiser on the way to the station, with the belief that doing so would soak up the excess alcohol in his system.
  • In 2005, another driver tried to beat the breathalyzer by stuffing his mouth full of his own feces, only to provide two breath test readings that were both twice the legal limit.

The myth that sucking on a penny prior to a breath test appears to have come from a misconception regarding the copper content in pennies that can somehow interfere with the breathalyzer’s ability to read the alcohol content in one's breath. This is simply untrue, aside from the fact that pennies have been made of 97.5% zinc encased in a copper coating since 1982.

Breath mints may disguise the odor of alcohol on one's breath, but they do little to actually affect the presence of alcohol. Similarly, drinking large amounts of water or chewing gum are unlikely to have any impact on the level of alcohol in one's blood and therefore the presence of alcohol in one's breath.

Why Cheating a Breath Test Doesn’t Work

These anti-breath test methods are all ineffective because of the manner in which breath tests are administered. In California, officers who administer breath tests are supposed to wait at least 15 minutes prior to administering a test to monitor a subject to make sure he or she does not smoke, drink, eat, chew gum, vomit or burp.

So, eating a mint or stuffing a penny in your mouth when you see the lights of a police car behind you would be an ineffective method of cheating a breath test. This waiting period may work in a driver's favor, as burping or vomiting may increase one's mouth alcohol level, which would unfairly skew the results of a breath test, subjecting it to challenge in court.

If you are arrested for DUI and a breath test is administered without the proper waiting period, this may provide grounds for a valid defense against the validity of the test.

Legally Beating the Breath Test

What can you do to challenge the breath test – and win? The first step is to involve an attorney who can investigate the circumstances surrounding your arrest and breathalyzer to determine whether there is any way to bring its validity into question. An improperly administered test, device that has not been calibrated in accordance with state standards or other issue may prove that the test was inaccurate.

Rather than relying on a penny to help you beat a breathalyzer, involve an Orange County DUI attorney as soon as possible.

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