Diabetes & DWI in New Hampshire

Red diabetic bracelet

As the saying goes...If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. Right?  Well, maybe not if you’re talking about DWI and diabetes.  Police officers are quick to believe that a motorist is impaired from alcohol based on very few signs and symptoms of impairment. Oftentimes, an odor of alcohol alone will change a routine motor vehicle stop into a full-blown DWI investigation. As it is, police officers have minimal training in detecting impaired drivers. And, the training they do have-most of which is based on junk science-is believed by many to be accurate and reliable indicators of DWI. In reality, once a police officer detects a few signs and symptoms of potential impairment, harmless reasons for such symptoms are quickly overlooked or cast aside as the DWI investigation proceeds.

For the diabetic driver, a legitimate medical condition can be easily confused with DWI impairment. Diabetics commonly experience hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). This condition can produce symptoms that include slow and slurred speech, poor balance, staggering, drowsiness, flushed face, and disorientation. These are the very symptoms of impairment that police officers are trained to equate with alcohol intoxication! For this unlucky driver—a DWI arrest is looming. This person will look, sound, and act like a drunk driver to the investigating officer, and will certainly fail any field sobriety test.  As one expert in the field stated:

“Hypoglycemia (abnormally low levels of blood glucose) is frequently seen in connection with driving error on this nation’s roads and highways…Even more frequent are unjustified DUIs or DWIs, stemming from hypoglycemic symptoms that can closely mimic those of a drunk driver.”

From “Hypoglycemia: Driving Under the Influence” in 8(1) Medical and Toxicological Information Review Sept. 2003.

An Intoxilyzer breath test will prevent a diabetic from a wrongful conviction, right? Not so fast. The Intoxilyzer 5000 which is used in NH DWI investigations has certain limitations.  One such limitation is the machine's inability to differentiate ethyl alcohol (what we drink) from Acetone (A by-product of hypoglycemia is a condition called “ketoacidosis”, which causes the production of acetones in the breath). In other words, the Intoxilyzer will find significant blood alcohol levels on a diabetic’s breath, when in fact, there may be little to none present. Considering that about 1 in 7 drivers on the road today suffer from diabetes, this “misdiagnosis” of DWI, happens far too frequently.

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