Effects of Alcohol on your Driving Skills

The main theme of the week of 6th-12th November 2006 that was designated as Road Safety Week was Young Drivers. This should not come as a surprise considering that the largest concentration of breath analyzer failures in road accidents involving injuries is the group comprising under-25 year old males. Road deaths figures attributed to alcohol are, at the time of writing (13 November) still only available to 2004 and the released figures of 590 killed and 2,350 seriously injured are still only provisional. It would not be fair to assume that young drivers are to blame for every drink related accident nevertheless it is one specific group that the government feels particularly needs targeting more especially in the run up to the Christmas period.

Published sources claim that 6% of all road casualties and 18% of deaths (again, provisional) can be attributed to at least one involved party being over the legal drink limit. These figures may not appear overly high but unless you have been connected in some way with an alcohol related accident it may be difficult to appreciate the implications. Yet, despite the government’s concern, the permitted alcohol limit in the


remains higher than in eleven other EU countries.

The Effects of Alcohol

We’ve all heard the term Dutch Courage which means taking risks while under the influence of drink and it doesn’t take much alcohol to lull you into a serious risk taking situation. If you’re inebriated and in charge of a vehicle this is comparable to holding a loaded gun at somebody's head and pulling the trigger. You have in your hands the same kind of mechanism that can readily kill!

Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly yet it wears off slowly. It takes just ten minutes for your body to absorb 50% and an hour for all alcohol that you have consumed to enter your bloodstream. Even a tiny amount is sufficient to impair your driving ability. Despite the absorption rate, the booze you consumed the night before will still be present in your system a full twelve hours later and no amount of hot coffee will ever alter this fact.

Do you know the Legal Limits?

There are three ways of measuring the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream.

• 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath

• 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood

• 107 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of urine

These levels are very low when translated into the number of units of alcoholic drinks an adult might consume. As a very rough indication, 4 units of alcohol for men and 3 for women is all that is required before you are legally unfit to drive. Compare these units to a single measure of spirits (1 unit), strong lager (3 units), standard lager (2 units) and a small glass of wine (average 1.5 units) and you will realise just how little you need to drink before being legally over the limit.

How the Law Stands

In theory the police cannot stop you and demand that you take a breathalyser test unless they have reasonable cause to suspect you of committing a road traffic offence, they can smell alcohol on your breath or they believe that you’ve been involved in an accident.

If stopped, any person who is driving, attempting to drive or is in charge of a vehicle in a public place (including pub car parks and petrol station forecourts) can be asked to take a test to measure the amount of alcohol in their breath. If you refuse or the test proves positive you will be arrested and taken to a police station whereupon you will usually be required to provide two further specimens of breath. These samples will be analysed by any one of three approved instruments currently in use. If the two readings differ, then the lowest reading is the one accepted by the police. If you’re over the legal limit you will be charged, straight and simple! Should you refuse to provide a breath sample then similarly you will also be charged with committing an offence unless you have a reasonable excuse such as a medical condition. Despite some popular belief, you do not have the right to insist on a blood or urine test instead. If an automatic measuring device is unavailable or not working at the police station where you are taken, then the police however do have the right to request a blood or urine sample. They can also demand a blood or urine sample if they believe your condition has been caused by drugs or they believe that your medical condition prevents a breath sample from being taken.

If the lower of the readings taken is 35-39 micrograms you will be released without charge but you may still be cautioned; if it is between 40 and 50 micrograms you must be offered the option of providing a blood or urine sample, but the police cannot take blood samples without your consent. However, if you refuse to their request to provide a sample the police can rely on the breath test results.

Drinking and driving penalties should be high and so it allows you to stay away from doing the other.