Can an Energy Drink Give a False Positive on a Breathalyzer?

Posted by Doug Murphy | Nov 22, 2019 | 0 Comments

Could you be charged with driving while intoxicated after consuming an energy drink? You might be surprised to learn that energy drinks are a common cause of false positives on portable breath tests. While the window for these false positives to occur is fairly small, the reality is that energy drinks have led to the arrest for suspicion of DWI for people that are entirely sober. How is this possible?

Ethanol and Energy Drinks

These results occur for a simple reason: there are small amounts of alcohol in most energy drinks. This is not the sort of alcohol that you might find in a cocktail, however. For any energy drink, the ingredients include small levels of ethanol alcohol. The alcohol concentration in these beverages is negligible; nowhere near high enough to classify them as an alcoholic beverage. However, reports of false positives in DWI breath-testing have been common since these drinks' popularity has skyrocketed.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services decided to test the impact these beverages had on the state's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) testing equipment. First, the researchers tested the drinks themselves. They determined that nearly 90 percent of these energy drinks contained low levels of ethanol alcohol. The researchers then had volunteers sample 27 of the most popular brands of energy drinks. After finishing an entire can, each volunteer was tested repeatedly using both portable breath tests as well as the breathalyzer machines used in police stations across the state.

According to the results, the more powerful breathalyzer machines never resulted in a false positive. This was the case for samples taken one minute after finishing the can as well as 15 minutes afterward. However, the results were not the same for portable breath testing devices. While results from the portable breath test did not pick up any false positives after 15 minutes, there were several false positives prior to that. The rate of false positives was the highest in the 60 seconds following the consumption of the drink. These false readings were not picking up alcohol in the bloodstream, but instead registering lingering amounts of the beverage still in the mouth.

Important Takeaways

This study shows that while false positives are very situational after consuming an energy drink, the risk for a false positive is real, especially considering how many people drink energy drinks while driving – whether it's to stay awake on the road or simply to give them a boost of energy. As such, this finding is significant, given that a false positive on a portable breath test is enough for many officers to place you under arrest. 

If you find yourself pulled over after consuming an energy drink, it is important to keep the potential for a false positive in mind. The officer is supposed to wait 15 minutes before administering the test but many times they don't. If that happens in your situation, make sure you advise your DWI attorney.

How a Board Certified DWI Defense Attorney Can Help

Energy drinks are not the only source of false positives in a breathalyzer reading. If you believe you have been wrongly charged with DWI in Houston, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away.

About the Author

Doug Murphy

Doug Murphy is one of only two Texas lawyers Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and also in DWI Defense by the National College for DUI Defense, accredited by the American Bar Association and the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.


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