According to the American Diabetes Association, hypoglycemia is a condition characterized by abnormally low blood glucose, otherwise known as blood sugar. Although common for people with diabetes, hypoglycemia can occur in anyone. For the person unlucky enough to suffer from hypoglycemia while driving, the symptoms are strikingly similar to intoxication.
Those afflicted with hypoglycemia experience double vision, blurry vision, nervousness, poor balance, disorientation, tiredness, and weakness, amongst other symptoms.
Sound familiar? It should. They’re the same symptoms that police look for in drunk drivers.
Let’s say the officer observes someone driving poorly as the result of a hypoglycemic attack and conducts a traffic stop. If the officer suspects that the driver is intoxicated, and they almost always do, the stop may lead to field sobriety tests.
How well is someone suffering from blurry vision and poor balance going to perform on, say, the walk and turn test or the stand on one leg test? My guess is not very well.
Ok, so the officer has observed poor driving and poor performance on field sobriety tests. The officer now asks the hypoglycemic to submit to a breathalyzer. And why wouldn’t they? They have nothing alcoholic to drink.
Unbeknownst to both the officer and the hypoglycemic is that alcohol has been produced in the breath of the hypoglycemic. When blood sugar is low, the body turns to burning stored fat for energy and ketones are produced. Ketones that cannot be used by the body turn into isopropyl alcohol and is either excreted through the breath or the urine.
The breathalyzer cannot tell the difference between the isopropyl alcohol produced from hypoglycemic process and the ethanol alcohol in alcohol beverages. Unfortunately that makes it very possible for the breathalyzer to produce a false blood alcohol content.
All of the “symptoms” of intoxication are present, without a drop of alcohol.