Breathalyzers assume that all people are the same and that no one has conditions which may affect the breathalyzer reading. In other words, breathalyzers assume that no one has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), no one is on a low carb diet, and that no one is hypoglycemic. While breathalyzers do not account for these differences in people, they can all affect breathalyzer results.
Just like the fact that not all people have GERD, not all people have a temperature of 98.6 degrees. Yet the breathalyzer makes this assumption as well. And, yes, according to studies, a person’s temperature can affect a breathalyzer reading.
One study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences in 1989 tested whether sitting in a hot tub, thus elevating a person’s body temperature, would affect a subsequent breathalyzer reading. The subjects were also given blood tests to compare the breathalyzer readings to. According to the study, the breathalyzer results were significantly higher than the blood test results.
In the 1990 study “The Myth of Breath Test Accuracy, What the Studies Have Really Shown,” researchers concluded that one degree centigrade change in breath temperature can cause a change in blood alcohol content reading by 6.5 percent. Other studies have estimated the change to be as high as 9 percent. This could be the difference between a blood alcohol content reading of 0.07 percent and a 0.08 percent, which we all know is illegal to drive with.
So when you have a fever as the result of the flu or other illness, forget about the Nyquil affecting a breathalyzer. The fever, itself, may cause a person to have an elevated breathalyzer reading. Unfortunately, that means that a fever can be the difference between being arrested for a California DUI and making it home.
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