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Do Breath Analyzers Really Work?

Nov. 29, 2016

When a police officer pulls you over, a breath analyzer test may be administered to check on your intoxication level. While this may give a good indication of whether or not a driver is drunk, there are also factors besides alcohol that can cause your alcohol blood concentration to seem much higher than it actually is.

According to, reported BAC levels will be higher than the actual amount in almost one out of every four people who take a breathalyzer test. All test-takers will have results that vary as much as 15 percent from their actual levels in normal circumstances. Certain conditions and activities can cause higher numbers, while others can result in a lower reading.

Lower Readings

Researchers have found that vigorous exercise could reduce the BAC results by as much as 15 percent. One study found that running upstairs caused significant reductions in readings, with the levels decreasing by 11 to 14 percent after one flight and 22 to 25 percent after two flights. Scientists believe that hyperventilation is part of the reason why physical activity has such a dramatic effect on BAC levels.

Higher Readings

While intense exertion can produce a lower reading, there are several things that can cause your reported levels to be higher than they actually are. These activities range from inherited and uncontrollable factors to activities that people may do as part of their occupations:

  • Temperature: Police officers need to recalibrate their breath analyzer machines to adjust for differences in the outside temperature. Failing to do so can cause a significantly altered result; levels can be raised around 8 percent for each degree the person’s body temperature is above normal.

  • Diabetes: Since some types of analysis machines measure the methyl group structures in the mouth to identify alcohol, there can be mistakes if there are high levels of compounds with similar structures. People who have diabetes and sometimes those who are dieting often have high levels of acetone in their breath, which can be mistaken for alcohol.

  • Environment: Sometimes all it takes to raise your BAC levels is touching certain products. Researchers found that spending as little as one hour painting a wall with oil-based paint or using contact cement caused a resulting BAC of 0.12 in a person who had not ingested any alcohol.

Factors such as blood hematocrit values and the speed in which a person converts alcohol in the breath can also affect the BAC levels. If you have been charged with intoxicated driving and believe that any of these conditions may apply to you, contact an attorney for help in defending your rights.