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‘Tis The Season To Avoid Drink Driving*

Merry and jolly are words that crop up in only two contexts: Christmas and indulging in a drink or two, and by “drink”, I don’t mean a cup of hot chocolate. Tis the season when work parties, sports and other club breakups and family dos are pretty thick on the ground. This usually means that wine, beer and cider will be in evidence somewhat. So will the cops with their breathalyzers.

breath testingWe’ve all heard the horror stories and seen the safety campaigns, yada, yada, so I’m not going to go on about all the reasons why you shouldn’t drink and drive. However, one question that a lot of us have is how much you can actually get away with having before you get slapped with a great hefty ticket and/or become a menace to yourself and others.

The answer is, of course, it depends. It will depend on what sort of licence you have, what you’re driving and who you are. It will also depend on what your preferred tipple is and what you’ve been eating.

The easy one to explain is the rules for L and P platers: zero. Nada. Zip. Zilch. You even have to steer clear of mouth wash and sherry trifle. Technically, you should even avoid participating in Mass/Communion/Eucharist if you belong to one of the churches that use real wine in the ceremony. However, in New South Wales at least, if you do get caught with a bit on your breath or in your bloodstream on your way home from the church, this is considered legit but you’ll still have to go to court and prove that you were actually at church that morning, etc. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is over 0.2 mg/mL, however, you won’t get off even if the Pope himself came in to swear that you’re the altar boy.

While we’re on the subject, there have been instances where priests and vicars have ended up driving with a BAC over 0.2 mg/mL. This is because, thanks to a heap of rather dry theology we won’t go into here, they have to get rid of all the leftover communion by drinking it. Communion wine tends to be the cheap red fortified plonk that’s about 14% proof, so if the vicar’s really overestimated the amount needed, there’s a fair bit there to drink that a couple of chocolate chip biscuits and a coffee after the service aren’t going to soak up (plus see below re soaking up). Add in the amount of church services that tend to go on in the lead-up to Christmas and the chances that the cops are going to catch the vicar out get a lot higher. This is the point where Baptist ministers and Muslims look smug, as this doesn’t happen to them, given their avoidance of alcohol.

However, the vicar is unlikely to be over 0.5 mg/mL, which is the limit for those of us who aren’t driving on a P or L plate, or driving a heavy truck or a taxi. If you are in charge of a vehicle that’s over 13.9 T, handling dangerous goods or ferrying fare-paying passengers around (bus or taxi drivers), the limit is 0.2 mg/mL.

Unfortunately, it’s rather hard to calculate your own BAC. You can try keeping count of standard drinks but this is really inaccurate. For one thing, drinks don’t always come in standard sizes – I’ve got about four different sizes of wine glass sitting in my cupboards, for example, so “just one glass” can range from about 100 mL to pretty close to 125 mL. For another, you don’t always get the chance to see the label telling you how much of that particular tipple is a standard drink. Sometimes, in the case of home brew (which includes Granny’s home-made ginger ale), there is no label and no real way of telling the true alcohol content. You can’t always tell by the taste how strong it is, either. Mixing alcohol with something bubbly gets it into your bloodstream quicker, too.

How many drinks it takes to reach your BAC will depend on a lot of factors. Your weight is one thing that affects it and is the one most often talked about. Your fitness and the state of your liver will also play a role. So will your gender and even your stress levels.

It is widely held that eating will slow the rate at which the alcohol goes into your bloodstream. This is true… as long as you eat the food before having the alcohol. Attempts to “soak it up” afterwards by downing a plate of nachos are doomed to failure.

Nothing but time alone will get your BAC down if you suspect that you’ve overdone it. Coffee will not fix it. Nor will a cold shower. Nor will throwing up. Even getting some sleep won’t do much if you’ve really gone overboard, as you can still have a post-bender BAC over the limit up to 18 hours afterwards.

So what’s the answer? It’s safest if you avoid drinking alcohol altogether if you’re the driver and save your moments of indulgence for when you’re the host. However, the following rules may help you negotiate the next party safely:

  • Non-alcoholic, every last one of them.

    Non-alcoholic, every last one of them.

    Eat first. Proteins are best for slowing down the alcohol absorption rate, which explains traditions like cheese, peanuts and salami to accompany wine and beer.

  • Do your drinking early on so you’ve got time to process it.
  • Moderation. You don’t HAVE to drink alcohol all the time or at all, and there are a lot more options out there than orange juice and soft drink (I’m rather partial to a Virgin Mary).
  • Don’t be too proud to call a taxi or ask to sleep on the sofa if needed.

Volvo fans can also consider the Alcoguard, an option where you have your own little device to breathe into – and you have to breathe into it before you can start the engine. If you fail the test or don’t take it, the engine won’t start and you can’t drive. This is available on post-2008 S80s, V70s and XC70s from Europe or the US, at least at the moment. But it wouldn’t be a bad idea for us here Down Under (someone tell Volvo Australia, please?).

Safe and happy driving,


* OK, it’s not the only time of year you have to watch out for this.