Tag: Blood Alcohol Concentration

know-your-limit

Source: Scottsdale Police Department

The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety has been doling out wads of cash lately. The recipients are agencies that promote highway safety in all its forms. Recently the Marana Police Department received, among others, a $15,000 grant to expand its programs that raise awareness of the effects of alcohol.

It’s called the Know Your Limit grant, after the program of that name. The program stations officers at large gatherings where people drink, such has festivals and sports events such as last year’s Phoenix Open. Passersby are asked if they know what their blood alcohol limit is. Then they’re given breathalyzer tests to see if their estimate is correct.

It rarely is, and many people find they’re over the .08 legal intoxication limit. The program can be a revelation to many drinkers who don’t realize how strong alcohol is or how impaired they actually are.

Programs like Know Your Limit are vital because people usually estimate if they are “okay to drive” based on faulty criteria. If they have only had one or two drinks, or are steady on their feet and can speak without slurring their words, they assume they’re sober enough to be on the road.

In fact, almost any amount of alcohol causes some impairment, and that impairment is very much in evidence well below the .08 threshold. If, thanks to the Know Your Limit grant, a few thousand citizens of Marana get a true picture of how alcohol affects them, and as a result some of them might they skip driving. That $15K will then translate to lives saved. Our thanks to GOHS for doing Marana a solid.

kombucha alcohol duiKombucha has had two bursts of fame in recent days.  First, for becoming a popular social drink (and thus big business) in the U.S. after about 1900 years as an obscure Japanese health tonic. Second, for the revelation that drinking it can cause one to register a fail on a breathalyzer, alcohol monitor or ignition interlock.

The second flurry of publicity stems from the DUI arrest of Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Michael Floyd, whose blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was recorded at .044 by his alcohol monitoring device. Floyd claimed that he was drinking kombucha and did not realize that it contained alcohol.

Kombucha is a fermented tea drink; the fermentation process produces alcohol. Some brands have very little of it, but others have about half the kick of beer, so much that stores are cautious about selling the stuff to minors.

Not everyone buys Floyd’s explanation, and in truth it does sound as if Floyd was really chugging down the kombucha in order to reach that high a BAC. But most of us do not have the NFL and the sports press breathing down our necks – we just want to know if having a bottle of kombucha in the cup holder can land us in jail.

Beware the breath

The truth is, even if kombucha alcohol can’t land you in jail, it could easily get you as far as the police station. If it’s fermenting, just drinking it could turn your mouth into a mini-brewery. So, for that matter, could fruit juice or even bread, which contains yeast. You could easily take a swig of kombucha and send a breathalyzer off the charts. Once a blood test was done you’d be exonerated, but no one would want to let it get that far.

This video demonstrates how kombucha alcohol in the mouth can cause a deceptively high BAC rating. Moreover, if you brew your kombucha at home, it will be unpasteurized, so the fermentation can continue and raise the alcohol content.

It goes without saying that if you have an ignition interlock installed in your vehicle, you should avoid kombucha when driving, and rinse out your mouth well if you’ve been drinking it that day. Ignition interlocks are designed to react to alcohol, so they’ll register the contents of your mouth as well as your system – it all exits through the breath.

Whether kombucha benefits the health is a question for medical experts. It’s proven beyond doubt, though, that drinking it can be bad for your breathalyzer results. So be warned.

Drunk driving is an unusual crime for a couple of reasons. One is that, unlike other crimes, it comes with its own measurable, standardized physical evidence. Test a driver for alcohol, and you know whether or not you have a drunk driver on your hands.

The other side of the coin is that the evidence disappears quickly. Fingerprints, bodies and DNA stick around, but a few hours after a person has driven drunk their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is  back to zero. The evidence is gone.

That’s why police often have to act fast to obtain evidence of drunk driving. This is going to be harder in Arizona now. The State Supreme Court has ruled that police can’t have DUI blood samples taken from an unconscious suspect without a search warrant or special urgent circumstances.

The fact that the evidence will soon disappear is not considered an urgent circumstance.

The ruling is based partly on a U.S. Supreme Court decision on warrantless blood draws, and it also makes reference to Fourth Amendment privacy laws.

The Unconscious DUI Suspect

The case in question was an incident in which a driver was found unconscious after a collision. Blood was drawn, and his BAC was found to be .21, or more than twice the legal limit. The defendant wanted the blood evidence suppressed, on the grounds that the blood draw was a warrantless search.

But… Implied Consent!

Arizona has an implied consent statute in its motor vehicle laws. This statute says that anyone who operates a motor vehicle gives consent to blood tests for alcohol or drugs. Moreover, dead or unconscious people are not excepted from this clause. That seems to sew things up. So what happened?

The court went with another U.S. Supreme Court case, Missouri v McNeely. The opinion stated that the “physical intrusion” of a needed involves “an individual’s most personal and deep-rooted expectations of privacy.”  So even with implied consent, the state must require either voluntary consent or a warrant, except in cases where a obtaining a warrant in time is impossible – and not just because of the dissipation of the alcohol.

What Does This Mean for Arizona DUI Enforcement?

Police who want to take a DUI blood sample from an unconscious suspect will either have to have a warrant, or will have to show more cause that they couldn’t get a warrant than just that time was running out on the BAC evidence in the blood.

For the record, it was not always customary to draw blood from unconscious suspects. In the early days of drunk driving laws – the 1930s and 1940s – it was considered an unfair invasion of privacy. As a result, a driver who drunk enough to become unconscious was able to escape the prosecution.

That’s not the purpose of this ruling, and we hope it doesn’t have similar results.

DUI Scale from .05 to .08Most people who drink think about just one number, if that: how many drinks they had. They might have an idea of how many drinks they can handle, and how many it takes before they are no longer capable of driving safely.

They’re usually wrong, but more about that later.

A more exact measurement of intoxication is blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Anyone who drives knows that the legal BAC limit in the US is .08. This means that the amount of ethanol in your system may not exceed .08 grams in 100 milliliters of blood, or .08 grams in 210 liters of breath.

But that’s still a number, and for many, a more vague one than the tally of drinks. What does it mean?

How Many Drinks to Reach .08 BAC?

Every person’s metabolism is different, and a drink that might just relax one person might incapacitate another. Generally, size, gender and age will all figure into it. The old rule is 2-3 drinks for a 120-pound woman, and 3-4 for a 160-pound man. Many factors can throw off those numbers, though. Food eaten, the time taken with each drink, and physical condition can all influence how drunk a person gets.

Symptoms at .08 BAC

A person with a BAC of .08 will occasionally stumble when they get up from a table, though not inevitably. They might forget things. Usually they’ll be in a good mood – the expression “feeling no pain” probably originated at this blood alcohol level.

People at .08 are uninhibited; they do things they might not do while sober. They might pat a friend on the back just because they like them, or tell a joke that would be beyond the pale if alcohol weren’t present.

None of these are the end of the world, and in truth, there are worse things than being .08 at a party (being .16, for instance).

Driving at .08 BAC

Get behind the wheel, and things change. Muscle coordination diminishes. For the record, muscle coordination is needed for braking and steering. Eye coordination – needed to follow other drivers and spot danger – is also weakened.

Reflexes are slowed at .08, so it might take a lot longer to hit the brake if you see a pedestrian walk out into the road. Hearing and sight are also worse at this level of impairment. You’ll also have lost some of your self-control, which means that bad decisions and impulsive reactions are more likely.

Too Generous a Standard?

There are those who argue that .08 is too high. And in fact, many countries around the world do employ lower BAC limits for drunk driving. Note too that you can be convicted of impaired driving even if your blood alcohol is lower than .08. If a police officer judges that you are impaired by the way you are handling your vehicle, you are liable for a DUI. In fact, many states have separate laws for driving while impaired and driving with a BAC of .08 or more.

And here’s the kicker: many people with an .08 BAC think they’re just fine to drive. Part of the reason is that alcohol, which makes you a bad driver, also makes you a bad judge of whether or not you’re a bad driver. It’s a paradox that costs thousands of lives every year.

The Key – Don’t Push Your Luck

A good-quality portable breathalyzer is not a bad idea for learning how your body racks up the BAC numbers. But take care: just because you are under the legal limit, you can still be much too drunk to drive. The safest bet is not to drive at all when you’ve been drinking. You’d be surprised how little alcohol it takes to cause one small slip – possibly a disastrous one. The smart move is to not try to beat the numbers.

blood-alcohol-test-pitt-countyA bottleneck in Pitt County’s DWI process has just been widened. A new blood alcohol test lab has opened up at the Pitt County Detention Center to handle blood samples from DWI suspects.

The bottleneck was a serious one, with some tests delaying court cases by years. When delays cause cases to be dismissed, drunk drivers are put back on the roads.

Now blood tests can be processed within hours.

Not everyone is aware of the crucial nature of blood tests in DWI prosecution. When an officer suspects  a driver of being under the influence, he or she usually begins by asking, “Have you had anything to drink?” The police officer then uses several senses to detect impairment:

  • Hearing – do the words sound slurred?
  • Sight – are eyes bloodshot? Does the driver look confused or otherwise “out of it?”
  • Smell – is the odor of alcohol detectable?

Any positive signs will lead to the officer doing a breathalyzer test,  and possibly the FST (Field Sobriety Test), the latter of which helps detect impairment in balance, coordination, and reflexes.

Blood Alcohol Tests – Vital Court Evidence

Important as these steps are, they are not conclusive. Readings from hand-held breathalyzers are not allowable as evidence; another reading must be taken at the station by an evidential quality breathalyzer. Even those results can be contested, however: there can be testing or calibration errors. A blood test is the unassailable standard for determining intoxication.

The legal limit for intoxication in North Carolina, as in all states, is .08. However, a level of .16 or more is considered an aggravating factor, and as such can weigh more heavily when punishment is levied.

If an ignition interlock is required to be installed in an offender’s vehicle after a DWI, the device will prevent the engine from starting if the driver’s BAC level is .02 or more.

Justice delayed is justice denied. And a blood alcohol test delayed is a greater likelihood that a drunk driver will be back on the roads. Pitt County’s new lab will help both the cause of justice and the fight to end drunk driving in North Carolina.

08 limit here to stayThere was a time when you had to register a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of around .15 to be considered legally drunk. Over the years, that number has been rolled back to an .08 limit, a move which has saved countless lives. Few today would doubt that a driver with that amount of alcohol in his or her system should be removed from the road.

Did we say few? There are some – misguided souls who consider .08 a mere buzz, not worth handing over the car keys. Whether they are freedom fighters who cherish their right to down three beers before a road trip, or vendors who want to sell those beers, these people claim that the .08 standard is unnecessarily strict.

For the record, a 120-pound woman might reach that level drinking nursing two glasses of chardonnay in two hours. For an average-sized man it might take four – a lot of factors are involved, including how much has been eaten, the person’s physical condition, and even how tired he or she is.

Comparing the .08 Limit to Cell Phone Use

Those who consider the .08 limit too strict like to point out some research done by a professor of pharmacy at Touro University in Vallejo, California. The professor’s team examined the effects of hands-free cell phone use on driving ability. The upshot: hands-free phone use was comparable to driving with a BAC of .08.

See? Those four drinks aren’t any worse than chatting with a friend on the phone while driving.

Except that’s exactly the wrong reading. The findings were that using a hands-free caused almost as much impairment as driving drunk. So the point of comparing .08 impairment with cell phone use was not to minimize the dangers of driving at .08, but stress the hazards of cellphones while driving.

And what if it were more dangerous? That would not change the fact that both activities are liable to kill. We know that, at .08 BAC, judgment is affected, as is motor coordination, vision, and one’s sense of caution. Unfortunately, many people believe they are okay to drive at this level – more evidence that their judgment is off.

Those who oppose strong measures for .08 drunk driving, on the grounds that it’s just like cellphone use, are in double denial. They’re denying the dangers of drunk driving and the dangers of distracted driving as well.

Why the .08 Limit Matters

Why does this matter, if .08 is the law of the land? It matters because many states are considering tougher measures for those who are arrested for drunk driving at the .08 level. 27 states now mandate ignition interlocks, or car breathalyzers, for anyone convicted of drunk driving with a BAC over the legal limit. The 28th – Rhode Island – will be signing on soon, and other states have either passed or are debating similar legislation.

And that’s a good thing: a mountain of evidence shows that driving at .08 is extremely dangerous. While more fatal crashes occur when drivers are above .15, the number of deaths and injuries caused by those in the .08 to 15 range is still in the thousands.

Anyone who is truly thinking about public interest should support ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders, and not rail about the good old days. As far as drunk driving went, they weren’t that good.

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