With the announcement of a pending 0% blood alcohol level for all drivers of motor vehicles, the question is if the absolute level is achievable,
“Not really,” said Rhys Evans, director of Alco-Safe, a national supplier of breathalysers to the law enforcement community.
“In principle, I 100% support having only sober drivers on the road and a 0% limit. Scientifically and logistically, I don’t see how a 0% limit can be enforced without creating problems for officers and motorists.”
Evans said blood alcohol limits were very similar to speed limits.
“If you have them and don’t enforce them they will not achieve the desired outcome. When you start having speed traps on a daily basis you will soon find that people start obeying the speed limits. The same can be said for our drink driving limits.”
“Most breathalysers have what is called a mask. It is there to stop any interfering substances causing positive results. Generally, the agreed upon ‘mask’ worldwide is 0.005%.”
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If the “mask” was turned off, the lowest result which would be seen was 0.005% and a result of 0.004% would display as 0%.
“This result is so low that the effect on a person or their impairment at that level is more or less equal to a person with a 0% level.
“What really should be spoken about is whether it’s possible to prove blood alcohol at such low levels.
“Products often state that they contain alcohol, such as cough medicine, mouthwash, or energy sachets like Bioplus or
These would all cause positive results on breathalysers for a few minutes after they have been used – it’s called the mouth alcohol effect.
A surprising suspect was bread, as it contains yeast and after a few days it develops “tiny” amounts of alcohol.
The levels were not enough to cause impairment, but were enough for alcohol to be detected by a breathalyser if the test was done almost immediately after eating the bread.
“I’m sure you remember the video doing the rounds from Easter 2019, when a police officer tested positive after eating the hot cross bun,” said Evans.
“The problem, as we saw from the video, is that many people operating breathalysers do not understand or know about the mouth alcohol effect. So there are going to be a huge number of false accusations levelled at motorists.”
Even Red Bull and Monster caused positive results for about 30 seconds after a sip.
“It can also be caused by fruit juice that’s been in a hot car for the day. The heat, sunlight and sugar will cause fermentation and start to make alcohol. You will test positive for a minute or two after drinking it.”
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Evans said if the testing officer was properly trained and understood the concept of mouth alcohol, then the scenarios mentioned above would not cause problems.
“The alcohol will evaporate if it is just in the mouth very quickly. A second test a few minutes later will then have a zero result if the reading was caused by any of the above-mentioned factors,” he said.
At a low level of 0.010%, unless the police officer tested the person and had their blood drawn by a district surgeon within 15 minutes, they would have a 0% result.
So, will people with very low levels be convicted?
“It’s unlikely. Are there going to be a lot of officers who waste a lot of their own time and motorists’ time only to get 0% results? Definitely,” Evans said.
“How many motorists will be locked up in jail cells overnight or over weekends only to find their blood tests come back as 0%? That is a real possibility if officers are not properly trained.”
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