If a police officer believes that you are driving under the influence of alcohol, they might ask you to blow into a breathalyzer to determine whether you are under the legal limit. If you are not under the limit, then they are within their rights to arrest you and take you to the station.
Doesn’t sound like the ideal end to your night, so what happens if you refuse to take the test? We’re going to find out below, as well as answering a few questions about the breathalyzer test that you might have.
What is a breathalyzer test?
A breathalyzer is an electronic test used by police officers to test how much blood alcohol content is in your system. It’s incredibly accurate, but if it comes back positive you’ll need to take another one at the station to confirm your blood alcohol content.
The higher your blood alcohol content, the higher your blood alcohol concentration will be. As you breathe out, alcohol evaporates from the blood and is carried out of your mouth.
So, a breathalyzer is used to measure how much alcohol is on your breath, confirming how much is in your blood alcohol content.
To take a breathalyzer test, you’ll be asked to breathe into a mouthpiece for approximately 5 seconds. You will need to continue breathing into the tube until it stops beeping to get an accurate result.
After you stop breathing into the mouthpiece, the results will be displayed within a few moments. If you don’t breathe for long enough or strongly enough, you will be asked to perform the test again until you get a result.
What happens if you refuse the breathalyzer test?
If a police officer suspects that you are driving under the influence, they have the right to ask for a breath test. You cannot refuse this test, unless you want to be charged with ‘refusing to provide a sample’. You will be taken to the station to begin the process of the next steps.
You can also be charged with ‘refusing to provide a sample’ if you continuously provide a failed sample. This can be done by breathing too lightly into the mouthpiece or for not enough time. So, it’s not a good idea to invalidate the test on purpose.
If you are charged with ‘failing to provide a sample’ when asked to perform a breathalyzer test, you can be punished by up to six months in prison as well as a driving disqualification.
Whether you fail a breathalyzer test or fail to provide a sample, the results are going to be just as bad. So, you might as well take the test and face the consequences if you are driving over the limit.
Are there any excuses to avoid taking the breathalyzer?
If you have a reasonable excuse not to take the breathalyzer, then you can avoid being charged with not providing a sample. The only reasonable excuses tend to be medical conditions that you can prove at a later date.
These include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Rib or chest injury such as a Tracheostomy
- Mouth, lip or face injury
- Lung disease
- Respiratory problems such as asthma
- Neurological issues such as facial palsy
- Shock or trauma
- Phobias of needles or blood
- Severe alcohol intoxication
- Short stature
Do vulnerable detainees need to do a breathalyzer test?
There are special rules that apply to vulnerable detainees such as minors and people suffering from cognitive or mental health issues. If a breathalyzer needs to be conducted on a vulnerable detainee, an appropriate adult must be present beforehand.
An appropriate adult refers to someone who is independent of police authorities and is able to safeguard the vulnerable detainee. They also need to be able to provide an independent perspective should it be needed.
Without the presence of an appropriate adult, the detainee might not be aware why they are being asked to perform a breathalyzer test. Therefore they might refuse to take it and be found guilty of refusing to provide a specimen.
Some police officers do not want to wait for an appropriate adult to arrive and therefore go ahead with the breathalyzer anyway. However, if the detainee is charged for failing to comply then the lack of appropriate adult will help their defense later down the line.
What is the legal limit of alcohol?
The federal limit for legally driving under the influence is a blood alcohol content of lower than 0.08%. As a rough estimate, a standard drink increases your blood alcohol content by 0.02%. So, to remain under the limit you will need to stay under 3 or 4 drinks.
To be safe, we might even suggest capping your intake at 1 or 2 drinks. There are many cases in which 3 or 4 drinks will take you over the limit, so be careful with your intake.
In the US, a standard drink contains 14 grams of pure alcohol, which can otherwise be found in:
- 12 fl oz of beer
- 8-9 fl oz malt liquor
- 5 fl oz wine
- 1.5 fl oz distilled spirits
So, it’s always best to keep track of how much alcohol you’ve consumed. If you’re planning on playing close to the wire and going for 4 drinks, bear in mind that some drinks have a higher alcohol content than others, and some bartenders tend to be more generous than you were planning for.
To answer the original question, what happens if you refuse to take a breathalyzer test, you can be charged with failing to provide a specimen. This might result in a driving ban and imprisonment of up to six months.
There are some ways to work around having to take a breathalyzer, such as if you have a medical reason for your exemption or you are classified as a vulnerable detainee. However, you will likely be taken to the police station and asked for proof of your excuse, so don’t think about trying to lie your way out of it.
If you’re stopped by a police officer on account of possible driving under the influence, you should just take the breathalyzer. Both failing to do so and failing the test come with serious consequences, so you won’t be able to bend the law either way.