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Stop kidding yourself: Breathalyser myths debunked

Avoid believing these breathalyser myths

Many of us have wondered at one point in time if it’s possible to get around a breath test if ever stopped by a police officer after having a few drinks. The simple truth is that breathalysers are nearly impossible to lie to.

Understanding how breathalysers work and debunking myths surrounding how you can pass a breath test could be what keeps you out of trouble with the law.

Here are some common breathalyser myths and the truths behind them.

Myth: Breath fresheners, mints, and mouthwash can help lower BAC readings.

People continue to believe the myth that a pack of breath mints or a quick swish of mouthwash can remove alcohol residue in the mouth and help them get away from trouble during a roadside test.

Truth: These substances merely mask the smell of alcohol but they do not affect the alcohol percentage found in one’s breath. Since many brands of mouthwash contain alcohol, they may actually cause a higher reading than usual.

Additionally, breathalysers can be sensitive to methyl alcohol (e.g. paint thinner), isopropanol (e.g. aftershave), carbon monoxide, and diethyl ether. Therefore, waiting 15-20 minutes after exposure to these agents should result in a more compliant test.

Myth: You can beat a breath test by sucking on a penny or a garlic clove

One of the more bizarre urban legends is the claim that sucking on a penny will negate the results of a breathalyser test. This is just one of the many home remedy myths with no scientific rationale.

Truth: Similar to the breath mint myth, holding a piece of garlic under your tongue might just mask the smell of alcohol (without improving your breath) and sucking on a penny could prove to be unhygienic. Both methods are more superstitious than scientific.

Myth: Holding your breath, hyperventilating, and exercising can beat a breath test

Many people believe that holding your breath can work in your favour during a breath test. While this may sound plausible in theory, the reality is it won’t affect the test results.

Breathalysers can detect airflow and will sound a notification if no breath sample is detected from the mouthpiece.

Truth: By holding your breath, you will just be letting the examining officer know that you are trying to trick the breathalyser. Additionally, hyperventilating and exercising to “sweat out the alcohol” will not affect the amount of alcohol present in your breath sample.

Myth: Drinking coffee will sober you up before driving

It is wrongly believed that the caffeine from coffee will sober you up, making you feel more energetic and in turn, removing the remaining alcohol from your body and breath sample.

Truth: Coffee makes you feel more awake, giving you the false impression that you are sober. This is because when alcohol works to make you more sleepy and less alert, the caffeine found in coffee does the opposite.

Despite coffee being able to make you more alert and less sleepy, dietary guidelines caution against mixing caffeine and alcohol as it could encourage binge drinking and give you the impression of being sober when you’re not.

Myth: Breathalyser results can be used in court

In Australia, breathalysers are used as a tool for preliminary testing during Random Roadside Breath Tests (RBTs) to help law enforcement officers assess a driver suspected of drunk driving.

Breath test results can help a police officer determine whether a suspect is driving above the legal BAC limit of 0.05 and above, however this result may not always be admissible in a court of law.

Truth: Most RBTs have a booze bus nearby for suspects to take an evidential test. If there isn’t a booze bus prepared, suspects are taken to the nearest police station for confirmatory tests. Evidential tests will see law enforcement officers use Infrared Sensor Breathalysers or Spectrometers for more accurate alcohol tests.

Myth: I won't get drunk if I accompany my drinks with a large meal

Authorities in Victoria highlighted the rampant belief in myths including this one as a potential cause as to why 1 in 73 drivers were caught with alcohol in their breath during a November 2023 police breathalyser testing operation in Victoria.

Having a large meal while drinking has no effect on your BAC level, although some foods that contain alcohol might only help increase your breath alcohol concentration instead of bringing it down.

Truth: Drinking alcohol on a full stomach will not ensure sobriety. However, drinking alcohol on an empty stomach will raise your BAC levels faster and you are likely to feel the effects faster.

The truth about breathalysers

Instead of trying to beat the system, it only makes sense to use a breathalyser to your advantage.

Having your own breathalyser will help you avoid making any uninformed decisions and potentially save you thousands of dollars in fines or bail.

It’s essential to know that breathalysers are a preventive safety measure and that breath results from most Andatech breathalysers have an accuracy range of  +/- 0.005%BAC at 0.050%BAC.

When investing in a breathalyser, it’s important to remember that the quality of these products vary substantially. These discrepancies are mainly because products branded for novelty or “fun” employ cheaper, less accurate technology. In most cases, personal breathalysers use semiconductor technology that is not serviceable through regular calibrations.

In contrast, professional quality devices harness the power of advanced fuel cell sensors. This enables them to garner much more accurate readings that detect even small amounts of alcohol accurate to three decimal places.

Fuel cell breathalysers from Andatech also detect alcohol specific results and reduce the chances of false readings by ignoring ketones and acetones (chemical compounds with a similar structure to alcohol). 

Recently, technological advancements and an increase in consumer demand has led to a steady decrease in the cost of fuel cell breathalysers, making this technology more affordable and accessible to the public.

Owning a personal breathalyser reflects an ownership of responsibility for your actions and shows a concern for the safety of yourself and others.