Happy Saint Patrick's Day: How To Beat A Breathalyzer Test

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If you find yourself behind the wheel of a car at a DUI checkpoint tonight, having consumed 14 Jello shots, you are doomed and rightly so. But scientifically it's a matter of how doomed, though at that time you will be unlikely to fully appreciate an important, widely-used chemical reaction that was invented by Sir Ewart Jones in 1946—The Jones Oxidation.

It is based on a very simple reaction, which can be monitored by a color change (1). Color yourself stupid. And then learn some science before you get hammered this evening (but don't drive.)

Chromium gets its name from chrôma,  the Greek word for color. And those Greeks weren't kidding around.

Chromium salts and oxides. The color is dependent upon the oxidation state. Oxidation state is denoted by Roman numerals in parentheses.

But if you are at the DUI stop, there is only one color you have to worry about—green (1). As in the color of chromium sulfate—the stuff that will force you to pay a different kind of green -  to a lawyer to keep you out of the big house. 

The Jones Oxidation: Alcohol is oxidized with chromic acid (made from sodium dichromate plus sulfuric acid) to form acetic acid (vinegar). The chromium III (orange-yellow) is concurrently reduced to chromium VI, which is green. 

Is there any way that you can defeat Dr. Jones? Dr. Internet thinks so, but let's see which doctor wins. Here are some of the rumors that are circulated about getting out of the mess. Are any of them legitimate? Let's look.

  • Putting a penny under your tongue.

Does absolutely nothing. You might as well stick a plugged-in toaster under there.

  • Using mouthwash.

Not only will this not help, but it could even give a false positive. Listerine (and if there's a worse tasting liquid in the universe, please let me know) contains alcohol, so if you just gargled, you could test positive. But, it will fade quickly and there will be no alcohol in your blood. No time in the slammer, at least from the mouthwash.

  • Breathe in and out like a madman before the cop gets to you.

Save your breath. The alcohol is coming from your lungs via the blood. It will be pumped out at a slow steady rate no matter how much you huff and puff.

  • Suck on a mint.

Like rapid breathing, it does nothing to neutralize alcohol. You can just add the cost of the mint to the mint that your lawyer is going to charge you.

  • Eat peanut butter.

A different kind of nut came up with this one. Does nothing.

  • Try to bribe the cop

Now, there's a splendid idea! Why not get two felonies for the price of one?

Sorry, guys. You can't beat the test. The only thing that will get your blood (and breath) levels down is time. Or abstinence.

Bottom's up. Or not.


(1) The colorometric test is rarely used now. It has been largely replaced by different electronic instruments.