5 Causes of False Positives on a Breathalyzer Test

A breathalyzer test is a common tool law enforcement uses to measure blood alcohol content (BAC) and ensure road safety. However, false positives sometimes occur, leading to unjust accusations and legal complications.

In this article, we delve into the primary reasons why breathalyzers might produce incorrect readings.

  1. Residual Mouth Alcohol

Mouthwash and Breath Fresheners

You might freshen your breath before hitting the road, but consider the repercussions doing so could have on a breathalyzer test. Many mouthwashes and breath fresheners contain significant amounts of alcohol. This alcohol can linger in your mouth and lead to inflated readings on a breathalyzer.

Residual mouth alcohol can be especially misleading if a test is administered shortly after using these products. The device may detect the alcohol concentration in your mouth rather than in your bloodstream, painting an inaccurate picture of impairment.

Dental Work

Recent dental work can create pockets and crevices where alcohol from drinks or mouthwash gets trapped. This residue can be released during a breathalyzer test, creating a false positive. If you have recently undergone dental procedures, be aware of this issue. It could have serious legal implications if you are subjected to a breathalyzer test.

  1. Medical Conditions

Diabetes and Ketosis

Diabetes and other conditions that cause ketosis can make your body produce acetone. This substance can be exhaled in your breath. Some breathalyzer devices are not sophisticated enough to distinguish between acetone and ethanol, which is found in alcoholic beverages.

Breathalyzers can lead to false positives for individuals with diabetes, particularly if their condition is not well-managed, or they are experiencing a state of ketosis due to diet or fasting.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

If you suffer from GERD or similar gastrointestinal issues, you may inadvertently bring stomach contents back into your mouth. These contents could include any recently consumed alcohol. A breathalyzer reading could reflect the presence of alcohol in your mouth rather than in your bloodstream.

  1. Environmental Factors

Exposure to Volatile Fumes

Occupational exposure or even brief contact with volatile substances like gasoline, paint thinners, or strong cleaning products may affect breathalyzer results. If you inhale their fumes, these substances contain compounds that breathalyzers can detect, potentially leading to a false positive. If you work with these materials, be aware of this risk, particularly if subjected to a breathalyzer test shortly after exposure.

Smoking and Breath Tests

Smoking cigarettes can also impact the results of a breathalyzer test. Certain chemicals in cigarette smoke affect the readings of some breathalyzer models, adding another layer of complexity to interpreting breathalyzer results.

  1. Device and Operator Errors

Calibration and Maintenance Issues

A breathalyzer’s accuracy heavily depends on its calibration and maintenance. Breathalyzers must be regularly calibrated to ensure they provide accurate readings. Even small calibration errors can lead to false positives.

In addition to calibration, proper maintenance is essential to prevent any buildup of residues or contaminants that could interfere with the device's sensors.

Improper Use

Even with a perfectly calibrated and maintained device, human error still plays a significant role in a breathalyzer test’s outcome. Law enforcement officers must be properly trained to use these devices to avoid common mistakes that lead to inaccurate readings. From incorrect administration techniques to timing errors, operator-related false positives are a real concern that can have serious legal consequences for you.

  1. Other Substances and Compounds

Over-the-Counter Medications

Many over-the-counter medications, such as cough syrups and cold remedies, contain alcohol, and they can contribute to a false positive on a breathalyzer test. Be aware of the alcohol content in these medications and the potential impact they have on breathalyzer results, especially if you plan to drive after taking them. Even if the medication does not contain alcohol, certain ingredients may still interfere with testing.

Herbal Remedies and Supplements

Some of these products contain compounds that can mimic alcohol or otherwise affect the readings of a breathalyzer. As the use of natural health products continues to rise, it's increasingly important for you to understand how these substances might impact breathalyzer tests.

Johnson Law Group, LLC can investigate the circumstances surrounding your breathalyzer results. If we find evidence of a false positive, we may be able to use it to help beat your charges. For a free consultation with our team, call us at (309) 565-8825 or contact us online.

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