The Christmas period is upon us. While it’s a great time of year, all the festivities mean that it’s also the time that many people get caught drink driving.
Right across Australia, a drink driving charge usually means losing your driver’s licence. In some states the police will suspend it on the spot.
As a professional driver, your licence is your livelihood, and one mistake can be devastating. It’s tempting to think “it will never happen to me, I’m careful.” Unfortunately, most people I work with are shocked to have been over the limit.
There are a few common myths around how to stay under the drink driving limits. People follow these myths, thinking that they’re doing the right thing. Unfortunately they often fall into a trap.
So, in the lead up to the silly season, I hope to help everyone stay safe by pointing out some of the more common pitfalls.
By far the biggest trap that people fall into is trying to count their drinks.
I can understand why people do it. For many years we have been taught the ‘rule of thumb’ that men can have ‘two standard drinks in the first hour and one thereafter’ and women ‘one standard drink in the first hour and one thereafter.’
The unfortunate thing is that in a lot of cases these guidelines don’t work.
Each person processes alcohol differently depending on their body. Even the same person can metabolise alcohol differently on different days, depending on what they’ve eaten, their health, and even weight loss.
It’s also very hard to judge how many standard drinks you’ve had in the real world. At Christmas parties our drinks are often poured by friends, cocktails made for us and glasses topped up. Add to that, many of our favourite Christmas foods contain alcohol that we don’t even take into account.
Unfortunately following the guidelines is not a defence to drink driving. Many magistrates don’t even consider it as a mitigation to reduce the penalties.
The morning after
A lot of people are shocked to discover how high their readings are the morning after. There’s something about having a good sleep that lures us into a false sense of security. But, sleep and a morning coffee does not speed up the rate that your body processes alcohol.
Over the Christmas season the morning after is a prime time for people to be caught drink driving. Police are aware of this mistake, so early morning RBTs are common.
For many drivers caught the morning after drinking, the offence is aggravated by the circumstances of their driving. Usually morning after drivers are going about their day, driving kids to morning sports. The presence of passengers in the car, particularly children can result in a higher penalty.
Recently there has been a trend for people to buy their own breathalysers. Unfortunately, this isn’t guaranteed keep you out of trouble; I’ve acted for a few people who have been caught drink driving after diligently using their devices. I have a real soft spot for these clients, as they’re usually the type of person who has gone above and beyond to do the right thing.
There are two main problems with personal breathalysers. The first is that they’re not always accurate. Even the best models need regular calibration to ensure they keep operating well.
The second problem is that the test only gives you a point in time snapshot of your blood alcohol content. Most people who use the devices take one reading as they hop into the car to drive. What they don’t realise is that your body could still be absorbing the alcohol, and therefore your blood alcohol content increasing. So while their reading is under the limit at the time of testing, it continues to increase and go over the legal limit as they drive.
Personal breathalysers can be a great tool for ‘double checking’. But they shouldn’t be used as the main way of staying under the limit.
How to stay safe
The only way to ensure you don’t find yourself in court is to not drive if you plan to have any drinks at all. A good plan B – a designated driver, taxi, staying the night – can save a lot of heartache.
Merry Christmas everyone! We wish you a happy and safe holiday.