Energy Drinks and the IID (Ignition Interlock Device)

Energy drink Red Bull on iceAhhh, energy drinks. We all love them. Those sweet little bullets of mojo.  Imagine you are driving your car to an important meeting. You are drinking an energy drink and having a sandwich to make up for lost time. The ignition interlock device (IID), also known as a breath alcohol ignition interlock device (BAIDD), requests a random rolling breath test to ensure that you are driving with no alcohol. Since you haven’t consumed alcohol for over a week, you confidently blow into the instrument but obtain a FAIL! The device requests another breath test. You check your energy drink to ensure it is “alcohol-free” and, on confirming it is, you take another drink to clear out your mouth and blow again. Another FAIL is recorded. The horn then begins to sound and the headlights may flash continually until you turn the ignition off. Yikes! Can you say embarrassing??!!

In addition to missing your meeting, you now feel publicly humiliated for having been labeled a drinking driver. Where’s my attorney?!! Also, in some jurisdictions a FAIL on the IID or BAIID is considered a breach of conditions set by the court and can result in an increase in insurance costs or may require you to attend an alcohol treatment program. How could this happen?!

Here’s how it can happen….energy drinks, although labeled “alcohol-free”, may actually contain up to 0.5% v/v alcohol. One study by Lutmer, Zurfluh and Long (WOA30511) tested 27 different types of energy drinks and found that 11 of the drinks gave a positive breath alcohol concentration when approximately one fl. oz. was consumed by alcohol-free subjects within one minute of providing a breath sample into a fuel cell portable breath alcohol tester (similar to IIDs). The following table lists those energy drinks and their alcohol concentrations:

Drink Alcohol Concentration (mg/100mL)
180 Energy 230
180 Red w/Goji 188
Monster Energy 98
Monster Lo-Carb 91
Rockstar 140
Rockstar Juiced, Mango Passion 142
Rockstar Juiced, Pomegranate 115
Rockstar Punched 76
Rockstar Sugar Free 152
Rockstar Zero Carb 180
WWE RAW Altitude 64

The positive BrAC detected was due to the mouth alcohol effect which has been discussed in previous blogs. No energy drink with an alcohol concentration of less than 64 mg/100mL, however, gave a positive reading. Nor does the consumption of energy drinks cause an actual positive blood alcohol concentration and it has been estimated by Lutmer et al to take the consumption of 200 fl. oz. of 180 Energy a very short time span to obtain a BAC of even 0.02 g/100mL.

Another study (WOA30510) found that having some types of baked goods (mainly yeast breads) could give a false positive BrAC of up to 0.046 g/100mL. The alcohol concentration of the top ten baked goods tested was as follows:

Product Alcohol Concentration (mg/100mL)
Downey’s Original Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon Cake 1,700
Rosemary Onion Bread 1,000
Great Harvest Apple Walnut Roll 1,000
Home Pride Wheat Bread 500
Thomas’ Sourdough English Muffin 400
Domino’s Raw Pizza Dough 400
Original Wonder Bread 400
QFC Plain Donut 300
Oroweat Extra Sour Rye Bread 300
Ala Francaise Sourdough Round 300

Again the mouth alcohol effect disappeared within several minutes. It was calculated that several pounds of these baked goods would have to be consumed in order to obtain the same amount of alcohol as in one bottle of beer (4% v/v).

Although these commonly ingested, readily available food products could cause a positive IID result, they will not affect the evidential breath alcohol tests conducted by the police due to:

  • 15-20 minute deprivation/arrest/observation period prior to the breath tests
  • two separate consistent breath tests  (see previous blog)
  • slope/mouth alcohol detectors (although not 100% effective by itself, it is an additional safeguard – see previous blog)

IID’s have the additional problem of having the FAIL set at relatively low BrACs (usually 0.02 to 0.04 g/100mL) compared to evidential breath tests which are 0.08 g/100mL+.

Ideally, manufacturer’s of Ignition Interlock Devices would incorporate some safeguards into their IIDs including a computerized verbal warning for the driver prior to requesting a sample to remove all substances from the mouth fifteen minutes prior to the breath test, and a request for a third breath test if there is no consistent duplicate breath test. Until such time, I recommend that individuals avoid drinking energy drinks or eating sandwiches while driving!

I would like to thank Chinyere Williams, forensic toxicologist at the City and County of San Francisco for her observations about the potential problems of the mouth alcohol effect and IIDs.


Energy Drinks and the IID (Ignition Interlock Device) — 10 Comments

  1. After reading this article, it occurred to me that while I do consume energy drinks on a daily basis to help keep me alert at my job (late night shifts in a restaurant), could they be the reason for numerous failed tests on the interlock device on my car? Majority of the fails have been when I was leaving work at 4 am, and had not consumed any alcohol, or consumed anything other than water and energy drinks.
    Are there other ways to fail an interlock test besides alcohol or alcohol containing products?

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  3. I have a case involving the client ingesting not an energy drink, but a Listerine breath strip, moments before being pulled over by the police and asked to provide an ASD sample. No elimination period was observed, although my client told the officer he had just put a breath strip in his mouth. He blew a fail. Might the result have been affected by the breath strip? Any feedback would be most welcome! Thank you,

  4. J’ai été contrôlé positif à l’éthylotest après avoir bu 500ml de Red Bull… Le résultat était de 0.05g/l…

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  7. Smart Start has tested several brands of energy drinks over the years. Most do not create a failure and when they do, they are low level fails easily avoided by following our recommended testing procedures. In one case we had an independent lab run an analysis on an energy drink which had a date code indicating it was almost 1 year old. This particular bottle was producing repeatable fails. The lab confirmed that alcohol was present in the product, likely a byproduct of fermentation of sugars over time. This is not the norm.

    In all cases, simply avoiding any drinks other than water for 10 minutes prior to testing will solve false positive test issues.

    Our clients are instructed to drink water before testing to avoid any contaminants that may cause the interlock to report mouth alcohol. If clients follow instructions they will not have false positive readings. If they believe the readings are false they should rinse again with water and take the next test offered.

    The common sense approach would be to avoid drinking the energy drink if they are concerned of the mouth alcohol content while they are using the interlock in their car.

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