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Breathalyzers: Should you refuse to blow?

Confronted with a police officer holding a Breathalyzer, a lot of people have a moment where they're tempted to take on the system and refuse to blow. Is that really the wisest course of action?

While only your own attorney can advise you for certain, here are some thoughts to keep in mind.

-- Rhode Island, like many other states, has "implied consent" laws. You imply your consent to chemical testing of your blood alcohol content by simply asking the state to give you a driver's license.

-- If you revoke your implied consent and refuse, the state responds by suspending your driver's license for a period of six months to a year. You can also be fined between $200 to $500, required to do up to 60 hours of community service, and face additional fees like the Highway Safety Assessment fee of $500 and another $200 assessment fee to the Department of Chemical Testing Program. Unless you already know that you're far too inebriated to be driving, that's a lot of punishment to take when you may not even be guilty of anything.

-- Breathalyzers are notoriously inaccurate. They work by identifying the ethanol that's found in alcoholic drinks. Unfortunately, they also pick up on ethyl alcohol, acetone and other, similar substances, all of which can cause you to blow a figure that's well above the legal limit.

-- You can be completely sober and still fail a breathalyzer simply because you ate too many bread products, started the wrong diet, have undetected diabetes, work with solvents or cleaning products, sucked on a cough drop that has alcohol in it or have been painting recently—and that's just for starters.

Even if all of those factors are absent, Breathalyzers can be poorly calibrated, poorly maintained and administered by someone that doesn't know how to properly do it. Even when they are properly done, studies show that breath test results vary 15% from actual blood alcohol content levels—which can easily make someone seem over the legal limit when they aren't.

That gives your attorney a lot to work with in order to challenge the Breathalyzer results in court.

If you take the Breathalyzer and fail, you'll be arrested and charged with a DUI, which is certainly serious business. Your option, however, severely penalizes you—and doesn't give your attorney as much to work with in order to mount a defense.

Source:, "Accuracy of Breathalyzer a Threat to Law-Abiding Drivers," accessed Dec. 09, 2016

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