Breathalyzer Errors: Acid-Reflux Can Lead to Inaccurate BAC Readings


You’re a responsible law-abiding driver, and only have one drink with your friends while out for an after work happy hour event. On your way home though, you are pulled over and subjected to a complete sobriety test, including the breathalyzer. As a responsible drinker, you believe you have nothing to worry about; however, the breathalyzer reads a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15%, which is over the legal limit of 0.08%. Your jaw drops. You are now facing a DWI charge. What happened? How did the breathalyzer get such a high reading? Perhaps it was due to the unfortunate acid reflux disease you suffer from, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).


How Does GERD Cause Breathalyzer Errors and Higher BAC Results?


GERD, which causes stomach contents to reflux back up into the esophagus due to the lower esophageal sphincter not closing properly, is intensified by the onset of stress. Obviously, being pulled over by the police and subjected to a complete field sobriety test, including a field breathalyzer test, is extremely stressful. As such, because a breathalyzer indirectly determines a person’s blood alcohol content by measuring the amount of alcohol present in the air of the person’s lungs, a person suffering from GERD is more likely to contaminate the results and have an inaccurate higher reading. That is, when testing a person suffering from GERD, the machine measures the alcohol present in the lungs, as well as the alcohol present in the undigested and partially digested stomach acids regurgitated from the stomach into the mouth and throat, along with the alcohol vapors in the mouth (rather than testing only the alcohol content present in the person’s deep lungs, which produces a more accurate reading). This causes the machine to incorrectly register a higher blood alcohol content. Some research indicates that those who suffer from acid reflux increase BAC tests from breathalyzers by a factor of four (4), meaning that if the person actually has a BAC of 0.04%, the test would register 0.16%.


While those suffering from serious conditions, such as GERD, can have inaccurately high readings, even those who suffer from minor stomach acid disorders may be subject to falsely high BAC readings. For example, if you have sporadic heartburn episodes and enjoy a large, spicy meal with a small amount of alcohol, then soon thereafter a breath test is performed – before the alcohol has been digested – it is possible for the breathalyzer to register inaccurate higher readings.


Finding an Attorney Who Will Fight For You


Having a breathalyzer test result that is higher than the legal limit of 0.08% does not inherently mean you will be found guilty of a DWI. The breathalyzer may not have been properly calibrated, or the test may not have been properly administered. If you suffer from GERD, heartburn, or another form of acid reflux, the breathalyzer test result may be inaccurate. Additionally, other conditions may cause the BAC readings to be elevated, including belching, mouthwash, or decaying food particles trapped in teeth, dentures, braces, or cavities. Exposure to volatile fumes, low-carb diets, and variations in breathing techniques and temperature can also impact the BAC readings.


However, it is important to recognize that these are all only possible defenses, and that prosecutors are often very skilled at defending BAC test results. Thus, it is important to find an experienced attorney who will fight for your rights and driving privileges. At Hollingshead, Paulus, and Eccher, you will find just that. We have the knowledge, experience, and skills needed to protect your rights. If you are facing a DWI charge, do not hesitate to reach out today. We are here to help you.