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Moncks Corner Legal Issues Blog

Can sucking on a penny fool a breathalyzer?

Many wild stories get passed around on college campuses in South Carolina and throughout the country. One of them is that sucking on a penny can disguise alcohol on your breath and fool a breathalyzer. However, this is nothing more than an urban legend that will not help you in the event a police officer pulls you over on suspicion that you are driving while drunk.

The How Stuff Works website explains the theory behind a penny fooling a breathalyzer. Supposedly, a person can suck or chew on a penny and mask his or her saliva content due to the zinc and copper content of the coin. This allegedly causes a breathalyzer to inaccurately read the alcohol content level on your breath and produce a lower result. Some versions of this story suggest that a breathalyzer will generate no readings at all.

No matter which version of this legend you may have heard, the fact is breathalyzers cannot be fooled by reading copper or zinc content in your mouth. They measure alcohol content by shining an infrared light through a person’s breath sample. The light will change when it detects alcohol in the breath and compute a result that determines the person’s alcohol level.

The reason this urban legend has persisted is likely because it once had some basis in fact. Old breathalyzers discerned alcohol content by taking a chemical measurement of the amount of alcohol in a person’s breath. These old breathalyzers could be fooled by using pennies or other manipulations. However, modern breathalyzers are designed to avoid such trickery.

There are other methods drivers try to fool a breathalyzer, like drinking coffee or using mouthwash, or breathing through the nose or switching between short and fast breathing. But in reality, inebriated drivers cannot expect to be saved from a high alcohol reading through clever ruses. The better bet to avoid DUI consequences is to stay away from excessive alcohol if you know you are about to get behind the wheel.

DUIs can vary greatly from case to case. For this reason, do not read this article as legal counsel for your situation. It is only intended as general information.