Could a fear of germs cause a false positive in a breath test?

On Behalf of | Jul 13, 2017 | Drunk Driving |

In a time when antibiotic-resistant infections and diseases seem to be rampant, New Jersey residents who work in professions that require contact with numerous unknown individuals every day could develop a healthy fear of germs. In order to limit potential exposure to a serious or deadly illness, many use hand sanitizer so much that they may not even think twice about it.

You may be grateful that these individuals take steps not to spread germs under ordinary circumstances. However, one instance in which it could be detrimental to you is during a traffic stop in which a police officer suspects you of driving under the influence.

What does hand sanitizer have to do with a DUI stop?

More than you would think according to recent research. The “American Journal of Infection Control” reported in Dec. 2016 that a correlation exists between false positives on breath tests and the use of hand sanitizer. These products often contain either ethanol, which is a drinking alcohol, or isopropanol, which is rubbing alcohol.

If a police officer or medical professional administers a breath test shortly after using an ethanol-based hand sanitizer, chances are good that the test may falsely show alcohol consumption on the part of the person undergoing the test.

The study

Researchers chose 10 volunteers. First, the tester obtained a baseline reading from the volunteers. Then, the tester used a hand sanitizer containing approximately 70 percent ethanol. Astonishingly, a second breath test administered immediately produced a blood alcohol concentration result of .15. That’s nearly twice New Jersey’s legal BAC limit of .08. False positives continued to occur up to three minutes after using the hand sanitizer.

Clearly, the use of ethanol-based hand sanitizers within three minutes of administering a breath test could skew the results of your breath test. You could end up under arrest on suspicion of drunk driving because of a germ-conscious police officer.

Challenging the breath test results

In addition to other challenges regarding breath testing machines (improper calibration, maintenance and officer training), it may prove useful to question whether the officer frequently uses hand sanitizers before administering breath tests. If it turns out to be true, and the officer uses an ethanol-based product, the results of your test may be invalid. Rendering the results of the breath test inadmissible in court may remove the officer’s probable cause for your arrest, which in turn, may result in a dismissal or reduction of the charges.


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