Alcohol and Drink-Driving
Every problem caused by alcohol and drink-driving is preventable. The statistics are lower than ever, but there are still far too many reports of deaths and crashes caused by drink-driving. In the UK, there has been a tremendous improvement in the number of people failing breath tests, dropping from 6,595 in 2006 to 3,883 in 2016. Casualties have decreased from 1,880 in 2009 to 1,170 in 2015. Sadly, the figures started rising again in 2017, with 1,370 people involved in crashes in which a drunk driver was behind the wheel.
Recent statistics show that 20% of English motorists drive the morning after a wild night out. Most are technically still under the influence even after ‘sleeping off the booze’ and police say the number of positive results has risen, especially amongst drivers mixing alcohol with drugs. If you drink, don’t drive. If you’re going out the next day, give yourself plenty of time before setting off –probably waiting until evening might be best.
Driving whilst intoxicated, impaired or under the influence is an offence in every country of the world. It is an offence that applies not just to alcohol, but driving under the influence of any drug whilst unable to operate any vehicle safely or according to laid down regulations.
DUI is a major cause of fatality in many European countries, especially amongst individuals aged 15 to 29. In the UK, legal experts and addiction specialists are calling for a reduction in the driving limit to bring the UK in line with the rest of Europe, where the limit currently stands at 50mg of alcohol for every 100ml of blood.
The move is expected to reiterate what we already know – that the road and alcohol are not a good match. This will save an estimated 65 lives annually. UK road safety groups believe the partial reduction is a stepping stone to a 20mg limit, which is as close to an absolute ban as possible.
Campaigners warn the new limit might create misconceptions about what’s safe, such as half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine.
Ideally, there shouldn’t be room for confusion, irrespective of what the law states. People shouldn’t drink and drive. Arguably, altering the limit from 80mg to 50mg is akin to telling drivers it’s still okay to drink, as long as you stay within the limits. Many only guess what the defined limits are when there should really be legislation that bans people from driving if they’ve had even the smallest sip of liquor.
Drink-Driving and the Legal Alcohol Limit
More than 75% of American adults are alcoholics, who drink in ways that harm their relationships, happiness and health. Many people, regardless of their origins and provenance, head to pubs and bars for ‘happy hour’ after work. On Friday and Saturday nights, they binge drink without control. For those people who can’t stop – even when they recognise they’re going over the limit or have no control over their liquor intake –this behaviour is considered an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
Most road accidents are caused by people driving under the influence, and DUIs cost the US government an estimated $37 billion in damages every year, the statistics in the UK are not much different although the data for last year is still not released. The level of intoxication of a drunk driver is measured through their Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) or via breath test measurement.
Most countries employ roadblocks of police cars (sobriety checkpoints) where drivers are checked and those who are found erring are fined, have their license suspended or could even go to prison if they have previous DUIs.
In the UK, the drink-driving limit is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 ml of breath or 107 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of urine. It’s hard for the average individual to determine or convert the amount of liquor into units because it depends on factors such as your body mass, gender and the way your body absorbs alcohol into your bloodstream.
In the US, most states have their own laws concerning the legal limit of alcohol use, but all have a set 0.08% BAC as the legal limit for residential drivers and 0.04% BAC for commercial drivers. BAC and legal alcohol limits were put in place to roughly define intoxication, as every human processes alcohol differently. Therefore, it won’t have the same effect on everyone.
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What the Law Says About Drink-Driving
Alcohol abuse means consuming too much in one sitting or drinking every day. Alcohol is an addictive substance that has its grip on millions of people around the world, especially in third-world countries where governments aren’t doing enough to regulate or create laws that punish offenders.
Alcohol abuse has been credited as the reason why people drink and drive under the influence. Abusers are heavy drinkers. Some don’t drink regularly, but when they do, it’s enough to cause serious problems for themselves and others. Here’s what the law in some developed countries has to say about drink-driving:
The criminal term describing a situation where a person operates a vehicle while intoxicated by drugs, alcohol or a combination of both is called DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) or DUI (Driving Under the Influence). The law focuses on whether the driver’s decision making was affected by consumed substances. Hence, detecting and prosecuting a driver affected by illegal drugs or prescription medication is difficult. Using breathalysers, officials can determine the exact amount of alcohol and controlled substance in a driver’s body.
Under US federal legislation, the limit is set at 0.04%, preventing those who have a commercial driver’s license from drinking and driving with 0.04% concentration or higher in the body. Some states require a person to actually be driving to enforce DUI and DWI, while others have a statute founded on ‘operation on control’. All states have a catch-all provision to capture people who are under 0.08% but appear intoxicated by definition of law. It covers everything from marijuana to driving with combined influence of drugs and alcohol.
When compared to other European countries and the rest of the world, Great Britain has a lower percentage of 16% when compared to previous years’ data on DUIs. The only country in Europe performing better is Germany with 9%. However, a closer look at recent figures from the Department for Transport shows the numbers have steadily increased since 2014. The laws were revised in 2015 to include testing kits for detecting cannabis and cocaine in saliva, alongside other illicit drugs.
According to the current official legislation:
The levels of alcohol per 100 ml are as follows: For England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the allowed milligrams for 100 ml of breath are 35, for 100 ml of blood are 80, and for 100 ml of urine are 107; for Scotland, the allowed milligrams are 22 for 100 ml of breath, 50 for 100 ml of blood, and 67 for 100 ml of urine.
Rest of Europe
Albania has a set limit of 0.01%, France– 0.02% for bus drivers and 0.05% for new drivers. A bus driver’s license can be suspended for up to three years and they can be hit with a 135 Euro fine. In Denmark, the limit is0.05% and a possibility of a prison sentence if 0.20% (with a fine of one-month net pay x BAC x 10). Germany has set0.05% as the standard. For beginners, it is 0% and the same for professional drivers, as well as truck, bus and commercial drivers carrying passengers. For cyclists, it is 0.16% and they face the same penalties as a drunk motor vehicle driver.
Effects of Alcohol on Driving
There is no single type of alcohol abuse. People have different drinking patterns with a single uniting factor. Individuals with the substance use disorder have lost control over their consumption. It might seem a subtle pun, but it drives their behaviour on and off the road. Some alcoholics drink while driving and consume liquor to feel the buzz – without bingeing. In social settings, they tend to drink excessively large amounts.
It’s easy to think you’re in control after you’ve had a drink or believe you’re level-headed enough to drive. Unfortunately, alcohol separates people from good intentions and a rise in your BAC can induce numerous dangers.
According to an article in Mental Health Weekly Digest, an increased BAC of 0.02% doubles the risk of a driving accident amongst teenage males and that further increases when the BAC is 0.08% and 0.10%. Alcohol has a serious effect on the brain, especially cognitive functions that control function and driving. As an antidepressant, it first helps to release the brain cortex from functions of control and integration tied to behaviour and judgment.
Undertaking tasks that require diligence and control become harder because alcohol has weakened cognitive functions. Drivers require discipline and concentration. You use your eyes, hands and feet when you get behind the wheel – all of which are controlled by the brain.
Drinking alcohol has the following effects on cognition:
Your reaction time is slow, so you can’t react quickly to changing situations. Alcohol affects your ability to act fast in the face of danger or a likely accident. It takes longer for your brain to access the situation and for your reflexes to react.
You can’t judge your car’s road position, centre line, the location of other vehicles or see road signs clearly and on time. Alcohol affects sight and you’ll notice you become blurry-eyed after drinking. Your vision becomes narrow as you’ll see less of what’s on either side of the road.
When you’re behind the wheel, your brain makes logical decisions on your behalf. Judgment is an essential skill for every driver. For example, how do you usually react when another driver cuts in front of you? Judgment makes you alert and aware of all possible outcomes whilst driving.
Alcohol makes you drowsy and affects concentration, no matter how little you think you drank. When driving, you’re supposed to be aware of the finer details, such as knowing which side of the road to drive on, speed limits, correct lane, traffic signs and other road users around you. With alcohol in your system, the chances of being involved in an accident are significantly higher.
Drinking affects motor skills between the hand, eye and foot. These are the primary coordination skills you need to successfully navigate a vehicle. Without them, you put yourself in danger.
The change that happens when you drink might seem inconsequential, but it disrupts electrical activities in the brain that make it impossible for you to know when to stop drinking.
Some High-Profile Cases of Drink-Driving Gone Wrong
Obdulla Sanchez, 2018 – The California-based teenager was driving drunk and ‘livestreaming’ at the same time. The car crashed and her younger sister died in the accident. She was live streaming the video on Instagram with her hands off the wheels when she overcorrected. The car swerved and turned, killing her 14-year old sister. The sentence was six years behind bars.
John Goodman, 2010 – Polo millionaire John Goodman was sentenced to 16 years in prison after he killed a young 23-year-old man while driving under the influence of alcohol. He was convicted of vehicular homicide and DUI manslaughter.
Jessica Rasdal, 2006 – Jessica Rasdal and Laura Gorman (both 18 years old at the time) had a few too many drinks on a girl’s night out. Jessica got behind the wheel whilst drunk and an hour later, her friend was dead. Jessica was charged with the killing and sentenced to four years in prison and received 2 years of probation.
Michael Gan, 2015 – Michael Gann was accused of killing a teenager, Logan Brown, in 2015. He was drunk and driving on the wrong side of the road as his car hit another vehicle head-on. Logan died on the spot and two other teens were seriously injured. He received a 14.5 years’ prison sentence for his actions.
Marco Muzzo, 2016– Muzzo’s BAC was almost three times the legal limit in Canada when he ran past a ‘Stop’ sign and crashed into a family minivan, in which there were three young children under 10 years old, their grandparents and great-grandmother. The children and grandfather died in the accident, while the other two sustained serious injuries. The judge gave a sentence of 10 years after the culmination of a high-profile case that attracted widespread attention due to Muzzo’s wealth, status and the age of the victims.
Alcohol and Driving Dangers
Alcohol-related crashes kill about 10,000 people in the US annually and are a contributing factor in one out of three motor vehicle deaths. There are videos, pictures, educational programmes and media campaigns warning people about drinking and driving, yet thousands of people are still guilty of the crime.
Increase the Risk of a Car Crash
A driver with a BAC of 0.10% is seven times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash than one who hasn’t consumed alcohol. The more you drink, the higher your chances of being involved in an accident. A person weighing 160 pounds (72.5kg) would have a BAC of 0.04, which is lower than the legal limit, but they would still be more likely to have an accident than someone who is sober.
Impairment starts before you reach the legal limit of 0.08. Research shows coordination skills start deteriorating at 0.02% BAC. Your visual functions decline and you’ll be unable to track moving objects such as cars, as well as lose the ability to perform two tasks at once.
Poor Decision Making
Alcohol affects your judgment, perception of danger and essential motor skills for safe driving. People who are inebriated get behind the wheel because they believe they’re okay to drive when they actually aren’t. In 2009, 10,839 people died from alcohol-related crashes. The best-case scenario when driving under the influence is if no one was hurt. The worst case would be death to others and a maximum sentence of life behind bars.
If you’re pulled over for reckless driving, a police officer will conduct a sobriety test if they suspect you’ve been drinking. You’ll have to demonstrate proper judgment and the required motor skills essentialfor operating a vehicle. Next, they’ll perform a BAC test to check how much alcohol you’ve consumed. Failing the test earns you a night in jail, a DUI charge and possible legal prosecution. Your license could be suspended depending on where you are caught, you may have this recorded into your criminal record, and be fined up to £5,000 in the UK.
Operating a vehicle carries its own set of risks. Why complicate it by putting your life and those of others at risk? If you’re struggling with alcoholism, there is a network of top-shelf alcohol rehab centres that are equipped to help you recover from alcohol addiction and substance use disorder.
Alcohol Unit Calculator
Units of alcohol in the UK measure alcohol content by volume of alcoholic beverage to provide guidance on the total amount of consumed. Many other countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia use a similar concept to establish safe limits for drinking. Standard drinks contain around one to three units of alcohol, with a single unit being described as eight grams of pure alcohol.
Information about the number of alcohol units in a standard serving is included on the packaging label or container of each alcoholic beverage.
The idea of measuring alcohol was introduced in 1987 to help British residents keep track of their drinking, especially if they planned on driving. Knowing your units helps you determine how much to drink and lowers health risks associated with alcoholism or alcohol abuse. The recommended intake for adults is 14 units per week, spread over three or more days (which should include drink-free days). Fourteen units equal six pints of standard beer or 10 small glasses of typical wine.
As you increase the quantity of liquor you consume, the risk of developing health problems such as kidney failure, cancer and alcohol use disorder, increase. Pregnant women shouldn’t drink, while the same applies to individuals taking medication that is known to interact with alcohol. You should aim for a low-risk response to alcohol, as this reduces its effect on your body.
For example, a wine that is labelled as being 12% ABV means 12% of the wine is pure alcohol.
To calculate: ABV x ml ÷ 1,000 = units
In practice, the number of units in a pint of 350ml of strong lager with an ABV of 5.2% gives:
5.2 x 350 ÷ 1,000 = 1.82 units
For automated results, use a unit calculator. Increased risk drinking is consuming over 14-21 units per week for women and 21-28 for men. High risk is classed as 50 units per week. For people who are alcoholics, we don’t recommend the abrupt cessation of drinking, because you could experience Post-Acute Withdrawal symptoms. Enrol for alcohol rehabilitation at a rehab centre to receive medical detox that makes the process safer.
Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Drink-driving Limits across Europe
Also known as Blood Ethanol Concentration, BAC is the generally accepted metric of alcohol intoxication for medical or legal purposes. Impairment varies amongst individuals and a breathalyser is used to obtain an accurate reading of a person’s alcohol intake. In most countries, it’s illegal to drink and drive when you’re above the accepted BAC levels.
The rules also apply to operate boats, ships or aircraft. Some jurisdictions have a limit higher than zero in order to capture naturally produced alcohol in the body, which may give a false (positive) reading.
Explanation of BAC levels
- 0.20 – feeling some effect after light to moderate drinking
- 0.40 – feeling relaxed and calm
- 0.60 – slightly impaired judgment
- 0.80 – legal intoxication level in many countries. Established impairment of driving skills and muscle coordination
- .100- slow reaction or unaware of control and time; established a state of drunkenness in many countries
- European countries with zero tolerance for drinking while driving: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Slovakia and Romania.
- Countries with 0.02% tolerance: Netherland, Norway, Sweden, Poland and Ukraine.
- Countries with 0.03% tolerance: Belarus, Serbia, Russia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- Countries with 0.04%- 0.05% tolerance: Lithuania, Croatia, Denmark, Austria, Macedonia, Latvia, Iceland, France, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Belgium, Scotland, Spain, Turkey and Switzerland.
- Countries with 0.08%: England and Wales, Norway (legal limit for sea vessels under 15m) and Malta.
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How You Will Be Tested for Drink-Driving
Drinking and driving is a dangerous action to undertake. The personal cost of excessive consumption is higher when you calculate legal fees for a DUI, alcohol addiction treatment and the effects on your family and personal life. A police officer who suspects you’re driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol will pull your motor vehicle over and administer multiple tests to determine the volume of drugs and/or alcohol in your body. They will not really feel compassion for your mistake, focusing on preventing possible harmful events which could result from DUIs.
Field sobriety tests are used to ascertain if driving is impaired by drugs or alcohol. Sobriety tests are employed to enforce road safety and DUI laws. The tests are usually performed in three to four parts, after a traffic stop based on a suspicion that the driver is drunk or impaired.
Results from the test are used as evidence in court cases and can be upheld on appeal. Failing the sobriety test provides probable cause for an officer to arrest you. The steps include:
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
The HGN test is the first part of most field sobriety tests. At this stage, the officer is observing the driver for involuntary jerking of the eyes when they gaze to the side, looking for three clues in each eye for a total of six. The clues are nystagmus starting before the eyes reach a 45-degree angle, inability to smoothly follow a moving object and distinct and sustained eye jerking when eyes are at maximum deviation.
Walk and Turn
HGN is followed by WAT – a test that measures a suspected drunk driver’s ability to maintain balance when following directions or walking in a straight line. The suspect is asked to take nine steps, turn on one foot (heel-to-toe) and walk along a straight line, before returning in the opposite direction, following the same steps.
One leg stand
Similar to WAT, OLS measures coordination and balance. You’re asked to stand on one leg for 30 seconds. The officer watches to see if you use your arms, sway whilst balancing, or put your foot down or hop.
When used in combination, Standardised Field Sobriety Tests have been successful in 91% of DUI cases. Suspects who fail are given a breathalyser test to determine their exact BAC before any arrest is made.
Punishments for Being Found Guilty of Drink-Driving
Depending on the severity or situation surrounding your drink-driving arrest, the punishment could affect your entire life. If you’re found guilty of drink-driving, the charge will be read to you, you’ll sign a charge sheet and be bailed until the court date, where you’ll appear before a magistrate.
The punishment possibilities are:
- Fine of up to £2,500 and a possible three-month jail sentence if you’re in charge of a car while above the legal limit.
- Unlimited fine and six-month imprisonment or a driving ban lasting one to three years if you attempt to drive while under the influence.
If you refuse to provide blood or a breath/urine specimen, you could face six months imprisonment, a one-year driving ban or an unlimited fine.
Death by careless driving while inebriated
results in 14 years behind bars, a driving ban for at least two years, an unlimited fine, as well as an extended driving test to regain your license.
The consequences of a DUI conviction are far-reaching. Car insurance costs increase because they’re taking a significant risk on you. You’ll spend around £20,000-£50,000 on solicitor fees and fines and might even lose your job. After serving time, it’s hard to get a job with a criminal record or enter other countries that are reluctant to give visas to ex-convicts.
Top Ways to Prevent Drink-Driving
The sober friend: if you’re going out in a group, always invite a friend who stays sober for the entire night. The sober friend ensures no one gets drunk and acts as a designated driver at the end of the night. The individual must understand the gravity of such responsibility and have everyone’s contact, as well as a valid driver’s license and emergency contact information.
Public transport: in major cities such as Dublin, Glasgow, London, Manchester and others, you’ll find 24-hour public transportation services. If you can’t rely on a designated driver, take the train, bus or taxi. Uber is another option for 24-hour car hire services.
Leave your car at home: the temptation to drive when you’ve had a few drinks is stronger if you came out with your car. Leaving your car at home forces you to look for alternatives for the return journey home.
Sleep at a Bed and Breakfast: If you’re having trouble figuring out how to walk to the bus stop or finding the safest option to get home in your intoxicated state, ask the host or bartender to point you in the direction of an affordable inn or Bed and Breakfast. If you’re out with friends, ask one of them to walk with you to ensure you check-in safely.
Tools/Gadgets to Help Avoid Going over the Approved Alcohol Limit
The difference between about of painful drunkenness and a relaxed, happy night is just a few alcoholic drinks. Most people don’t know how to measure their alcohol consumption and keeping a mental tally is hard after you’ve had your first glass. Use your smartphone to keep your drinking under control and stay within approved limits.
There are web-based tools, trackers and apps that easily keep tabs on drinking to ensure you don’t risk dangerous behaviour associated with alcohol abuse. A few include:
Unit calculator: this is an app that helps you keep track of your drinking. Simply enter the amount of liquor you’re drinking and they’ll do the math for you.
DADSS: The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety was developed in the US by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and it prevents you from driving whilst drunk. There’s a breathalyser on both sides of the steering that smells your breath and a touch sensor on the ignition or gear shift that scans for BAC. Both will prevent you from starting the car if you’re beyond the legal limit of 0.08.
- 260 people were killed and a thousand seriously injured in 2016 as a result of drink-driving.
- Over 70,000 people are arrested for drink-driving every year.
- The legal driving limit for individuals aged 20 and below is a BAC of zero.
- In the US, cars are the leading cause of death amongst teenagers, with a death toll of 1,393 from teenage drunk-driving in 2007.
- Almost one in six road deaths involves the driver of a car over the legal limit.
- Over 500,000 breath tests are carried out each year and an average of 100,000 are positive.
- Young men aged 17-29 are the major culprits for drink-driving in the UK.
How much alcohol can I drink before driving?
The drink-drive limit might be the same for everyone, but the influence when you drive is different. There is no system that allows you to have a large glass of wine or pint of beer and not be under the limit. The easiest way to avoid trouble is to not drink at all or give yourself sufficient time to rest the next day before driving.
Is there such a thing as safe drink-driving?
For competent driving, there is no such thing as safe drink-driving. If you’ve consumed even the smallest amount of alcohol, there’s no telling the level of impact it could have when you get behind the wheel. The more you drink, the higher the chances of an accident. If you’re planning on drinking, make alternative plans to get home.
What’s the drink-drive limit?
In England and Wales, the drink-drive limit is 80 mg of alcohol to 100ml of blood, 107 mg per 100 ml of urine and 35 mg per 100 ml of breath. In the US, all 50 states have a set of 0.08% BAC as the legal limit for DUI. In Scotland, the limit is different from the rest of the UK, with 50 mg of alcohol to 100 ml of blood and 22 micrograms to 100 ml of breath. In other European countries, the limit currently sits around 50 mg per 100 ml of blood.
How much can I drink and still be okay to drive?
There is no certain way to stay under the drink-drive limit and still manage to drive safely. The amount is determined by your stress levels at the time you were pulled over, the amount and type of liquor you consumed, any food you recently ate, metabolism, age, weight and gender. Small amounts affect your cognition, so stay safe by avoiding alcohol if you’re driving.
What’s a unit of alcohol?
One unit is 8g or 10ml. The unit indicates the size and strength of different alcoholic drinks. One unit is 218ml of cider, 76ml of wine, 25ml of standard whiskey, 250ml of beer and 250ml of alcopop. These are all standard measurements. Stronger continental lagers have higher Alcohol by Volume (ABV) compared to most standard drinks.
How can I stay within the legal limit?
There’s no safe way to calculate how much alcohol is within the legal limit of drink-driving. It takes in several factors such as age, weight and body mass. Even the smallest amounts of alcohol could affect your concentration, coordination, judgment, reflex and vision.
How long do the effects last?
There’s no fast cure for sobering up after drinking. Eating a hearty meal, taking a cold shower and drinking lots of water might help, but you’ll still be unfit to drive. A glass of wine takes four hours – plus an extra hour – for the alcohol to be absorbed into your system. You’ll need around two to three hours for a standard pint of beer to leave your system and even longer if you consume stronger brands.
How long after drinking is it safe to drive?
Allow an hour for every standard drink consumed. Space your drink, quit while you’re ahead and drink water for the rest of the evening, so your body has more time for alcohol to leave your system. There are online calculators that help determine the volume of alcohol in your system and the length of time it takes before leaving. Stop drinking early on if you’re driving in the morning. Even better, don’t drink at all if you’re driving the next day.
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