A police officer pulls a car over. The driver has been swerving, and he appears clumsy and incoherent. His breath smells of fruit and something that could be alcohol. It looks like a DUII – driving under the influence of intoxicants – but it’s not. The driver is suffering from diabetic shock.

This is actually a fairly common scenario. When the diabetic shock causes the driver to be uncooperative, the situation can go from bad to worse in seconds.

In one example, a man received a $825,000 settlement after police beat, tased, and pepper sprayed him because they thought he was driving drunk, when he was actually in diabetic shock, according to according to CBS Denver,

Understanding Diabetic Shock

Diabetic shock can occur in severe cases of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.

According to the American Diabetes Association, the symptoms of hypoglycemia include feeling sleepy or weak, blurred vision, coordination problems, hunger, nausea, lightheadedness, headaches, and tingling in the lips, tongue or cheeks.

Hypoglycemia is a serious condition that can lead to seizures, coma or even death. It can also be mistaken for drunk driving.

When the Breath Test Lies

Police officers who suspect drunk driving often administer a breath test. If the device detects alcohol, it seems like a clear case of DUII – but sometimes breath tests lie.

People experiencing hypoglycemia may have a sweet, fruity breath. In some cases, the breath may smell somewhat like alcohol. And it’s not just police officers who can be fooled by this scent. Alcohol breath tests may also be tricked.

Human error can make breathalyzer tests inaccurate, according to Forbes, because these devices must be calibrated correctly. A report from the NHTSA also found that diabetics and even dieters can have high levels of acetone in their breath, and this can result in false positives.

According to Nature World News, diabetes isn’t the only medical condition that can result in a false positive from a breathalyzer. Acid reflux and heart disease can do the same, and so can certain foods. A man in Australia even showed that eating a certain type of ice cream caused a false positive with the breath-testing device installed in his car, Techdirt reports. And Insider reports that a flight attendant says his keto (low carb) diet caused him to fail a breath test and lose his job.

Stay Safe, Healthy, and DUII-Free

A DUII conviction can seriously mess up your life. Never drinking and driving is the best way to stay safe and avoid a DUII, but as we’ve seen, mistaken arrests are still possible.

  • Know the symptoms of diabetes. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, irritability, blurred vision, slow-hearing sores and frequent infections. See a doctor if you think you might have diabetes.
  • Manage your diabetes. Driving in diabetic shock isn’t the same as driving drunk, but it’s still very dangerous. Work with your health care provider to manage your condition, and do not drive when you cannot do so safely.
  • If you have diabetes, consider wearing an emergency alert bracelet to alert people to your condition. You may also want to keep an explanation of common symptoms of hypoglycemia in your car.
  • Understand that breathalyzer tests aren’t foolproof. If you are falsely accused of a DUII, contact a DUII lawyer for help.

Of course, it’s important for all drivers to carry quality auto insurance. Is it time to update your coverage? Get an instant online quote.