To Blow or Not to Blow: Understanding Breathalyzer Tests

Introduction: The First Moment When You’re Pulled Over

You’re driving home late at night, and suddenly, you see flashing lights in your rearview mirror. Your heart sinks, adrenaline spikes, and your mind races with questions. Did I speed? Did I swerve? Oh no, will I have to take a breathalyzer test? In the complex world of DUI laws, one of the most challenging decisions you might face is whether or not to take a breathalyzer test. This article aims to be your comprehensive guide in navigating this pivotal moment. Whether you’re a first-time DUI offender, a repeat offender, or someone looking to understand this intricate subject, we’ve got you covered.

Plan, Predict, Act, Check

Before diving into the meat of the topic, let’s briefly go over how this article is structured. We planned this content to provide you with the most useful and relevant information, predicting the key areas that might cause concern or confusion. Each section is designed to build on the previous one, ensuring that your understanding grows as you progress through the article. So let’s get started!

What is a Breathalyzer Test?

A Breathalyzer Test Defined

A breathalyzer test is a chemical test that measures the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) from a breath sample. It is most commonly used by law enforcement agencies to test individuals they suspect are driving under the influence of alcohol.

How Does it Work?

The breathalyzer uses an ethanol-specific sensor to detect the amount of alcohol in your breath. When you blow into the device, a chemical reaction occurs that helps determine your BAC. It’s quick, simple, and can be performed right by the side of the road.

Who Administers It?

Generally, a police officer trained in DUI law enforcement will administer the test. However, it’s crucial to note that breathalyzers can also be administered by medical professionals in certain situations.

Legal Perspective: Is It Mandatory?

Now that we know what a breathalyzer is and how it works, let’s examine the legal ramifications of refusing to take one.

Implied Consent

In many jurisdictions, when you obtain a driver’s license, you automatically give ‘implied consent’ to undergo breathalyzer tests. This means that by holding a driver’s license, you have, in essence, agreed to take these tests when asked by an officer.

Consequences of Refusing

Refusing to take a breathalyzer test can have serious legal consequences, including a possible license suspension and even jail time. These penalties vary by jurisdiction but can significantly complicate your DUI case.

Consequences of Failing

Failing a breathalyzer test usually leads to arrest and a DUI charge. However, this isn’t the end of the road. A skilled DUI attorney can challenge the validity of the test results and possibly have them thrown out, which we will discuss later in the article.

Pros and Cons of Taking the Breathalyzer Test


  • Proof of Innocence: If you haven’t consumed any alcohol, the breathalyzer will corroborate your innocence.
  • Avoids Additional Penalties: Refusing the test can result in an automatic license suspension.


  • False Positives: Various factors can lead to a false positive, like mouthwash containing alcohol.
  • Admissible Evidence: Failing the test can provide strong evidence against you in a court of law.

Ethical Considerations

Ethically speaking, taking the test might seem like the right thing to do. However, it’s crucial to weigh your personal ethical stance against the potential legal implications.

How Accurate Are Breathalyzers

Understanding Breathalyzers: The Science and Methodology

To fully grasp the breathalyzer test’s efficacy, we need to dive into the science behind it.

Chemical Basis

Breathalyzers primarily focus on the chemical reaction between alcohol and certain electrodes in the device. This interaction helps estimate the BAC level in your system.


Although commonly used, breathalyzers are not foolproof. They can sometimes give false positives due to various reasons, such as a low-carb diet or the use of certain medications.

Field Tests vs. Station Tests

Field tests are what you usually encounter during a traffic stop. However, these are generally less accurate than the more advanced machines available at a police station.

Alternatives to Breathalyzer Tests

There are other tests that officers might administer, including:

  • Blood Tests: Generally the most accurate but require a medical professional.
  • Urine Tests: Less commonly used due to their less reliable nature.
  • Field Sobriety Tests: Physical exercises like walking in a straight line.

Each comes with its own set of pros and cons, and refusing these might also have legal consequences similar to refusing a breathalyzer.

First-Time vs. Repeat Offenders: What’s the Difference?

First-time offenders might face less severe penalties compared to repeat offenders. However, the implications of taking or refusing a breathalyzer test remain mostly consistent regardless of your history. Legal leniency varies by jurisdiction and is something you should discuss with your attorney.

How Reliable is the Breathalyzer?

While generally accepted as reliable, breathalyzers aren’t infallible. Factors such as the device’s calibration, the administrator’s training, and even your own physiology can affect the results.

Role of a DUI Attorney in Breathalyzer Tests

If you’re facing a DUI charge, hiring an attorney can make a significant difference in your case. A skilled DUI attorney can:

  • Challenge the Test: Questions can be raised about the device’s accuracy and the administering officer’s competence.
  • Legal Advise: Provide advice tailored to your specific situation, which can be invaluable.

Conclusion: To Blow or Not to Blow?

The decision to take a breathalyzer test is complex and can depend on numerous variables including your personal circumstances, the laws in your jurisdiction, and your ethical viewpoints. While this article aims to be a comprehensive guide, it cannot replace the tailored advice from a qualified DUI attorney.