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Possible Interferants with Ignition Interlock Devices

Georgia law can require or strongly encourage someone with a DUI arrest or conviction to have a driving permit conditioned on an ignition interlock device on their vehicle.  The devices are supposed to detect alcohol on the breath of the driver, but they are not perfect in accomplishing this.  In particular, there is quite a long list of things that can interfere with the operation of the device.

One list from a ignition interlock provider states the following:

Possible products and contaminants that can cause failed tests

There are a number of products, ingested or inhaled, that can cause a failed test. The following is an example of such items and is no way all-inclusive. It would be virtually impossible to identify all potential items a person could ingest or come in contact with that could result in a failed breath test. Examples of products/contaminants that can register a low level readings include:

  • Mouthwash containing alcohol.
  • Foods that contain significant amounts of alcohol (i.e., rum cake, vodka pasta, and many other foods that may have alcohol content), some pickled products or products that when combined with one's body chemistry can result in a low level reading.
  • Spicy Foods, some spicy foods can mix with the hydrochloric acid (HCl) in an individual's stomach and create a gas known as methane.
  • Cinnamon Rolls or Donuts. Donuts and cinnamon rolls can sometimes result in false positives. This is due strictly to the fact that these foods contain yeast and sugar, and these two ingredients are used to produce alcohol.
  • Chewing gums, sports/energy drinks containing sugar alcohol (i.e., Eclipse gum).
  • Dental bridges with zinc/mint – a recent discovery.
  • Hand sanitizer (contains 62% alcohol).
  • Alcohol swabs that may be used to sanitize the interlock airway.
  • Recently had a customer report that his barber applied witch-hazel to his face after shaving him. Apparently it contains 14% alcohol – he failed the test having inhaled the fumes.
  • Brake cleaning fluids
  • Solvents containing alcohol or ethanol
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Leaking anti-freeze
  • Gasoline
  • Asthma Inhalers
  • Bug/insect spray containing alcohol.
  • Windshield wiper fluid (heavy use) and the vents are open.
  • Perfume/cologne
  • Body sprays
  • ChapStick/Lip Balm
  • Ripe Bananas

In most cases if the person providing the sample thoroughly rinses their mouth with water, washes their hands, wears gloves, or in the case of inhaling fumes, takes several deep breathes with fresh air to clear their lungs, they should be able to pass the test. 

Some of the possible interferants are pretty surprising since it would not be surprising to encounter them.

In dealing with a car, it would not be unusual for a person to have contact with gasoline, brake fluid, antifreeze or wiper fluid.

Eating spicy foods, cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, gum, sports drinks, or bananas is fairly common.

Using lip balm, body spray, perfume or cologne, bug spray, mouthwash or hand sanitizer is very common.

And a person with asthma can hardly be expected to forego their inhaler.  

However, all of those things and more can cause the ignition interlock to activate.

Sean A. Black

Sean A. Black is a 1992 graduate of the Emory University School of Law. He has been in private practice in Toccoa, Georgia since June 1, 1992.


calvin boyer

Posted Oct 20, 2021 at 09:32:11

is there anyway to sue for unfair practice. or unequal protections under law. the devices are failing people who for things that are not even on there breath or in there system.


Posted Oct 20, 2021 at 09:44:12

That is outside my regular practice area, but I believe the answer would be no. The device is performing as represented. The individual case can be defended on the basis of those issues where evidence exists to support that claim. The amount of effect that an interferent can present can be negligible or significant. It is not a requirement that any device be perfect. Any type of screening device like an ignition interlock is not likely to match the accuracy or specificity of a laboratory mass spectrometer analysis.


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