UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020

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Written By: Laura BerryReviewed By: Melanie MussonUPDATED: Mar 13, 2020Fact Checked

You may know that you have the legal right to refuse a breathalyzer test. But did you know that doing so may have serious consequences? Refusing to submit to a breathalyzer is considered a criminal offense in some states and you can receive jail time or loss of driving privileges. In most states, you give implied consent to chemical testing when you apply for a driver’s license. This means you understand that you can be required to submit to a breathalyzer or blood test. States are also increasing penalties for refusing to consent.

What happens if the police stop me for a DUI?

When police stop you for a DUI, they are allowed to use their discretion on whether to arrest you. Often, if you have a low blood alcohol level, they will let you go with a court summons for the DUI.

If you refuse, they have no choice but to arrest you for failure to comply. Your jail time will depend on individual state laws and the judge who hears your failure to comply case. It may as little as 24 hours or as much as six months. Some states will revoke your driving privileges if you refuse to submit to a breathalyzer. In many cases, it can be up to one year on your first offense. This suspension may not be lifted if you are found not guilty of your DUI conviction.

A suspended license will stay on your driving record permanently as well. This will affect your car insurance rates and the ability to get jobs where a clean driving record is required. There is no way to have this removed later either.

Why should I submit to the breathalyzer test?

Before you refuse a breathalyzer test, you need to consider that the jail time and loss of driving privileges are not taken in to consideration when you are tried for the DUI charges. These will be in addition to any sentence you receive from the court.

Many people believe if they refuse a breathalyzer then there will be no proof when they go to court for the DUI and the case will be dropped. This is a false belief. The courts view a refusal to submit to the test as an admission of guilt. They state that if you had not been drinking, you would have no reason to refuse. In most cases, you will be convicted of a DUI. You may even receive maximum sentencing because the courts have no way of determining how intoxicated you were.

Before you refuse to take a breathalyzer, you should ask to speak to your lawyer. The police will have to postpone testing until you consult with your lawyer. You may still be arrested and taken to police station, but you will not be charged with refusal to comply at that point.

You will only be given a limited amount of time to contact a lawyer though. The time is limited as to not give you time to get sober before taking the test. After that time, you will need to either consent to the test or formally refuse. Your lawyer will be able to advise you on the best route for your situation.

What is a breathalyzer?

A breathalyzer is the name brand for a type of device that estimates blood alcohol content from a breath sample. Other brands on the market do the same thing. Other popular brands used include Alcotest, Intoxilyzer, and Datamaster. These devices come in different sizes. They range from larger models used at police stations to handheld models. Handheld models come in professional models and consumer models. Professional models are much more accurate than consumer models.

Many companies manufacture consumer models with affordable price tags to allow people to test their own blood alcohol level. You can even find disposable tests that cost only a few dollars. People hosting a party may also use one before letting guests leave. They have become popular in bars and clubs as well.

Breathalyzer technology is also utilized in ignition interlock devices. These devices are installed into the ignition system. A driver is required to give a breath sample below the control point before being able to start the vehicle.

How does a breathalyzer work?

Understanding how the body absorbs alcohol will help you understand how a breathalyzer works. Alcohol is not digested through the stomach. It is absorbed by the lining of your mouth, throat, and intestines. Once it is absorbed, it goes directly into your blood stream. It circulates through the body and is expelled through the lungs.

A breathalyzer detects the level of alcohol expressed through your breath to estimate how much alcohol is in your blood stream. Professional models use fuel cell technology and are very accurate. They cannot be fooled by masking your breath with things like gum, mints, or cigarette smoke.

A few things may cause a person to test higher like diabetes, acid reflux, dieting, and the size of a person’s breath. This test is only meant to be used to determine if a person is over the legal limit. If you feel the test gave an inaccurate reading, ask for a blood or urine test. These tests are much more accurate.

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A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Written by Laura Berry
Former Insurance Agent Laura Berry

Melanie Musson is the fourth generation in her family to work in the insurance industry. She grew up with insurance talk as part of her everyday conversation and has studied to gain an in-depth knowledge of state-specific insurance laws and dynamics as well as a broad understanding of how insurance fits into every person’s life, from budgets to coverage levels. Through her years working in th...

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Reviewed by Melanie Musson
Published Insurance Expert Melanie Musson