People who drive after drinking alcohol have a greatly increased likelihood of being involved in a crash. For example, a driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05 has doubled his/her risk of crashing as compared to having a zero blood concentration.
Alcohol is one of the four major causes of road traffic deaths. (Driver fatigue, failure to wear seatbelts and speed are the others.)
Recent research shows that drivers in nearly 30% of our state’s fatal crashes were above the legal blood/alcohol limit. So why does it keep happening? It’s partly because some drivers believe ‘it can never happen to me’ – and the more we drink, the more over-confident we tend to become.
How alcohol affects driving skills
No person can drink alcohol without affecting their ability to drive a vehicle or ride a motor bike or bicycle. You don’t have to be drunk to be dangerous on the road. Although you may feel or look all right, your driving ability will be impaired, especially in an emergency, if you have been drinking alcohol.
This is because alcohol is quickly absorbed into the blood stream, where it travels to all parts of the body, including the brain. When it reaches the brain, alcohol acts like an anaesthetic. It slows down and gradually dulls parts of the brain that are needed for driving. Once alcohol is in the bloodstream, its effects on the brain cannot be stopped or controlled.
These effects include:
Slower Reaction Time when something unexpected happens (e.g. a car approaching from a side street, traffic lights changing, or people crossing the road).
Poor Judgement about your speed and the speed of other vehicles, and in judging distances (e.g. other cars seem farther away than they really are).
Visual Attention and Hearing are reduced. After drinking alcohol, drivers tend to focus on the road straight ahead (“tunnel vision”) and avoid what is happening in their side vision (e.g. you won’t hear or see things like cars approaching from side streets, or people crossing the road).
Poor Co-ordination when trying to do more than one thing a time, especially in an emergency.
A False Sense of Confidence but alcohol will leave you less able to cope with unexpected events. You may take risks you would not normally take. This can be extremely dangerous as most drivers are not aware how badly their driving skills have deteriorated after drinking. Some people may show these effects after drinking only small amounts of alcohol, whereas others may demonstrate little or no change in their appearance or behaviour. Regardless of this, their driving skills will be impaired.
Even small quantities of alcohol will affect your driving ability.
University Insurances will not cover you if your BAC exceeds 0.05
How you can help yourself
If you are going to drink, it is safer not to drive at all.
You can plan to avoid driving by:
- designating a non-drinking driver
- using public transport (e.g. bus, train, tram, taxi)
- staying the night (make sure you are not still over the legal limit in the morning)
- arranging for a friend or family member to pick you up.
If you are offered a lift, only accept if the driver is not affected by alcohol or other drugs.
If you intend to drive, the following can help you avoid reaching a BAC of 0.05:
- eat a substantial meal before or, at least, during drinking
- start with a soft drink or water
- stick to light alcoholic drinks
- only have one type of alcoholic drink
- alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
- avoid drinking in ‘shouts’
- if you’re at a restaurant, ask for a jug of water (and drink it!)
- don’t let people top up your glass
- if drinking spirits, use more mixer and less spirit.
As a very general rule of thumb:
- MEN should drink no more than two standard alcoholic drinks (no more than 10 gms of alcohol in each) in the first hour and one standard drink each hour after that.
- WOMEN should drink no more than one standard alcoholic drink each hour.
- Note that sticking to these guidelines may not prevent some people from reaching a BAC of 0.05 or more.
- The only way you can be sure of your BAC at the time is to use a public breath tester
It is important to remember that even at a BAC of 0.05, your risk of having a crash is doubled compared driving with a BAC of zero.
Don’t combine alcohol with other drugs or medicines
Taking other drugs with small amounts of alcohol can severely reduce your ability to drive safely. This also applies to prescribed medication, medicines you buy over the counter from pharmacies or supermarkets and illegal drugs such as cannabis, heroin, amphetamines or ecstasy.
Myths about drink driving
Only TIME will reduce your BAC. It is a myth that black coffee, cold showers, exercise, fresh air, vomiting, tablets or home remedies will reduce BAC.
The Law and drink driving
If you are caught driving with a BAC of 0.05 and above, you will be penalised. Penalties may include fines and/or loss of licence.
It is illegal for L and P-plate drivers to drive with ANY alcohol in their system.