There has been an ongoing debate on social media, with some road users claiming that the Rwanda National Police (RNP) apprehended them for drunk-driving after returning a positive alcohol test after consuming energy drinks. It is a conversation that has been going on for a couple of years since RNP started conducting operations targeting people driving under the influence of alcohol, as part of efforts to minimize accidents and ensure safety for other road users. During the routine operations which are mainly carried out at night, Police normally detains drivers found on the wheel with alcohol consumption levels exceeding the 0.8 threshold, holding them for five days and fining them Rwf150, 000. As part of the punitive measures, the car is impounded briefly to ensure that the culprit does not repeat the same mistake. Police say that since the launch of the inaugural ‘Gerayo Amahoro’ campaign in 2019, road accidents, particularly fatalities, have reduced significantly, even though there is still a long way to go. Speaking at the resumption of the campaign last year in December, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Dan Munyuza, said that although accidents reduced impressively last year compared to 2021, many people still die on roads. “Since the beginning of this year, 9,468 accidents occurred across the country resulting in 617 fatalities,” he said, pointing out that the majority of the fatalities (183) were caused by cyclists while the other 150 involved taxi-motos. Accidents caused by drunk drivers have reduced significantly partly due to the measures, with many people who stay out drinking preferring to hire temporary drivers, commonly known as ‘Abasare’, to avoid finding themselves on the wrong side of the law. Enter the energy drink debate However, some people, mainly on social media, claim they get penalised for consuming energy drinks or non-alcoholic drinks such as Panache and 0.0 per cent non-alcoholic beer. In a recent post, a social media user, identified as Rutambi, claimed that his friend was jailed and fined for merely consuming an energy drink on a night out. “Hi @Rwandapolice I have never tested alcohol in my whole life. And neither does my friend. Surprisingly, you guys jailed him for drinking an energy drink. Either your devices don't work, or you are using this to extort money from people. Do something about it,” Rutambi tweeted. He is not the first one to complain about the alleged positive alcohol test after consuming energy drinks. The tweet drew in many other people who claimed the same, but Police firmly maintained that their breathalysers only test alcohol and nothing else. The Police Spokesperson, CP John Bosco Kabera told The New Times that people's claims are false because the breathalysers they use are specifically used to test alcohol and that is what they detect. “Energy drinks are energy drinks and alcoholic drinks are alcoholic drinks. Some individuals want to tarnish the image of the Police with such claims but they are false,” “We welcome people to come to us and we conduct a demonstration by testing someone who has consumed an alcoholic beverage and an energy drink. The results will be there for all to see,” Kabera said. He pointed out that some people are not honest when it comes to alcohol consumption and want to disguise it with an energy drink or other beverages but the breathalyser is made to test alcohol levels. What do studies say? According to available studies, some energy drinks are a common cause of false positive alcohol tests on portable breathalysers and this is becoming more common today than before, with many energy drink brands on the market. Scientists say the small amounts of ethanol in most energy drinks can return a false positive test for an entirely sober person, despite the alcohol being at negligible levels and nowhere near high enough to classify them as an alcoholic beverage. A study done in the US by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on the impact of energy drinks on blood alcohol concentration showed that nearly 90 per cent of the said beverages contained low levels of ethanol alcohol. The researchers, using volunteers, assessed the majority of the most popular energy drink brands, testing them a period before and after consuming the beverage, using both portable breath tests as well as the breathalyser machines used by police in the North American nation. Results showed that the more powerful breathalyser machines never resulted in a false positive but the results were not the same for portable breathalysers. The study revealed that while results from the portable breath test did not register any false positives after 15 minutes, there were several false positives before that. Most false positives were recorded within 60 seconds after consuming the energy drink. A laboratory technician working with a local hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he does not speak for the institution, told The New Times that it is true some energy drinks contain ethanol, which can cause a false positive. “It is possible that some traces of ethanol remain in the mouth, especially if you have just consumed the energy drink. It advisable that after consuming the beverage, you wait for an interval of time before going on the road,” “You can also take water after consuming the energy drink so that it flushes the ethanol out of the mouth before being tested. Considering that the alcohol levels are very low, the water easily neutralises it,” he said. Need for more studies Dr. Charles Karangwa, the Director General of Rwanda Forensic Laboratory (RFL), says that this is a contentious issue that needs to be studied further scientifically, but also doubts Police can arrest people for merely consuming energy drinks. “Those complainants should feel free to escalate the issue, we can make confirmatory tests at RFL. We have not done any study on this so far but if it is becoming a contentious issue, we can do more studies to ascertain that,” Karangwa said. “But I don’t think energy drinks can return a positive test because even if they contain small amounts of alcohol, it is not fermented. They don’t have enough levels of alcohol that can cause impairment, let alone returning a positive result,” he added. He pointed out that RFL has machines that can conduct chromatography tests, an analytical technique commonly used to separate a mixture of chemical substances into its individual components. A chromatography test is more advanced and accurate than the portable test. Dr. Karangwa said, however, that Rwandans or any other people who believe that they wrongly got a positive test can seek redress. He, however, said that Police tests are designed to test a certain level of alcohol in the body, especially enough to make someone impaired to drive, and energy drinks are highly unlikely to contain such levels.