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Can a penny in your mouth really trick a breathalyzer?

On Behalf of | Oct 17, 2023 | Drunk Driving Defense

Maybe you’ve heard this before, and maybe you haven’t, but there’s an urban legend that’s been making the rounds for more than a decade now that says a penny can magically get you out of a potential drunk driving charge.

According to this popular belief, you can drink with impunity when you’re out and never worry about a driving under the influence (DUI) charge – as long as you keep a few pennies in your pocket. Supposedly, you can use them to fool a breathalyzer into displaying a lower blood alcohol content (BAC) reading than is actually true.

How is this supposed to work?

Let’s be clear: The “penny trick” doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter if you use one penny or five, and it doesn’t matter if you use a modern penny (which is mostly zinc) or an older one (which has more copper).

In theory, however, someone who has been drinking would put a penny (or several) in their mouth and suck on it as soon as they’re pulled over by the police. Then, they would spit the penny out discreetly before blowing into the proffered breathalyzer. The idea is that the copper in the penny – or the combination of copper and zinc – causes a chemical change to the composition of the saliva in your mouth when you suck on it, and that neutralizes the alcohol molecules in your breath.

Not only does none of that happen, but that’s not even how breathalyzer devices work these days. Modern devices actually use a process that involves passing infrared light through a sample of a suspected drunk driver’s breath. Alcohol absorbs the light in a way that can be measured and used to calculate the amount of alcohol in a suspect’s bloodstream.

It’s never a good idea to trust your future to a bar tale – no matter who claims that they know someone who used this method. If you’ve been drinking, stay where you are until you sober up, get a ride from a friend or call an Uber, instead. If you make a mistake, however, you can always seek legal guidance to better ensure that you understand your rights and options.

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