police officer holding device for breathalyzer test

If you get pulled over for a suspected DUI or stopped at a sobriety checkpoint, the police officer may give you a breathalyzer test. Breathalyzers are devices that estimate blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to see whether you are above the legal limit. If you’re convicted of a DUI in the state of Maryland, you’ll have an interlock ignition device (IID) installed in your car. This is a breathalyzer you will have to blow into every time you start your car to ensure you have not been drinking. Although breathalyzers have been around for many decades, there are still quite a few misconceptions about them. Here are thirteen of the most common myths about breathalyzers.

1. Myth: You can cheat a breathalyzer by using mouthwash, breath mints, breath spray, or gum.

False. None of these will lower your BAC reading on a breathalyzer. In fact, mouthwash often contains alcohol, so can raise the reading. You won’t fool a police officer with your fresh breath either if they pulled you over after witnessing specific drunk driving behaviors.

2. Myth: Eating garlic, curry, and other spicy foods will mask the alcohol.

Breathalyzer chemistry specifically detects alcohol, so strong-smelling or spicy foods will not alter the reading either. Even if food makes your breath strong enough that the officer doesn’t detect the alcohol, the device still will.

3. Myth: Drinking lots of water will dilute the alcohol in your body and lower the reading.

No, drinking a lot of water will not spontaneously dilute the alcohol in your bloodstream. Over time, your body will metabolize the alcohol, and that is the only effective way to “sober up.” In fact, the breathalyzer actually detects the alcohol released from your lungs during this metabolism process.

4. Myth: Sucking on a copper penny will absorb the alcohol and change the reading.

This is a strange and persistent myth, but it’s been tested many times (even on Mythbusters) and it doesn’t work. These days, pennies are mostly zinc anyway.

5. Myth: Burping before blowing into the breathalyzer will reduce the BAC reading.

As mentioned above, breathalyzers measure the alcohol released on your breath as your body metabolizes it. A burp isn’t going to reduce the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream, so it won’t change the reading either.

6. Myth: The officer won’t notice if you suck in rather than blow through the device.

Yes, they will. Police officers realize that people try to do this, so they routinely place a hand on the other side of the device. If they don’t feel your breath coming through, they will certainly ask you to repeat the test.

7. Myth: Holding your breath before you blow will lower the BAC reading.

This is another myth that has been thoroughly debunked. In fact, holding your breath or hyperventilating can possibly increase the BAC reading. It’s best to simply breath normally for the most accurate reading.

8. Myth: Someone else can blow in your interlock ignition device to start your car so you can drive after drinking.

First, this is illegal. Second, many companies that install IID’s also install cameras to monitor use of the device before driving and during rolling retests. Getting caught trying to bypass the IID can potentially result in program extension, fines, or even jail time. If you have a sober person blow into the IID, you should also have them drive!

9. Myth: You can use compressed air to start your car, rather than blowing into the IID.

Many people think a balloon or some other source of compressed air will fool an IID to successfully start a car. It won’t. Most of these devices have temperature and air gauges or other features to ensure a human is breathing into it. Again, getting caught trying to circumvent an IID will have consequences.

10. Myth: Installation of an IID damages your car.

This is incorrect. Installation of an IID is a matter of some rewiring, all of which is returned to its original configuration upon removal of the device. Service technicians who install these devices do not drill holes or do any other damage to your vehicle.

11. Myth: Breathalyzers and IIDs can detect drugs other than alcohol.

This is not true, at least not yet. Standard breathalyzers and IIDs only detect alcohol, though devices that can detect other drugs, like marijuana, are in development. Keep in mind that if you are driving under the influence of any drug, legal or illegal, you can be charged with impaired driving.

12. Myth: Police cannot charge you if your BAC is below the legal limit.

False. You might face a lesser charge if your BAC is below the limit, however there is no guarantee. If the breathalyzer detects alcohol and you cause a crash, for example, you will still face serious legal consequences.

13. Myth: You are capable of driving safely when your BAC is above the legal limit.

No, you are not. This is a persistent myth among those who feel they have their drinking “under control.” They feel capable of driving safely after several drinks, not realizing what a danger they pose to themselves and others in the community. Remember that the safest BAC is zero. Do not drive if you have been drinking.