Breathalyzer – Am I OK to Drive?
Alcohol is everywhere. In the same country where drugs are fought with the ferocity and propaganda of a “war”, we tolerate, encourage, and even celebrate drinking alcohol.
Stadiums are soaked with beer. Restaurants, cafes, hamburger joints, bowling alleys, not to mention parties, clubs, and of course bars. In New York City (where I live), you can buy alcohol 24 x 7, virtually anywhere. Liquor stores abound, convenience stores stay open all night, wine bars, beer bars, music venues, and weekend barbeques – they’re all flooded with alcohol. Grand Central Station sets up liquor stands for the afternoon commuters to take drinks along with them for the ride home on the Metro North trains. Drinks are easily available in Central Park and most other public spaces.
And yet there’s weird rules. I can sit outside at a sidewalk cafe drinking $11 mojitos, but I can’t grab a $2 beer in the bodega next store and open it up on that same sidewalk without risking a summons. I can drink on my back porch, but not on the front porch. Why not? Someone might see me drinking? (They can see people drinking outdoors all over the city). And I can buy beer in the supermarket, but not at a liquor store. Why can’t a liquor store sell beer, but I can get beer at 7/11 next to the Cheez-Its? Then there’s Jersey, right across the river, where I cannot buy beer in a supermarket; it can only be bought in a liquor store. But the supermarkets have “pass-throughs” to go to the liquor store section. If you don’t pay close attention, you’d think you were in the same store. Companies will fire you if you have a drink at lunch, but if they take you out after work, drinking is virtually mandatory.
With all this liquor around, there is absolutely going to be a moment in your life – or many moments – when you face that inevitable question of … “Am I okay to drive?”
How many drinks are too many?
In short, everyone is different. And beers, wines, and spirits all vary in alcohol content. Your size affects how fast you metabolize alcohol, and so does your metabolism. But here’s a very rough rule of thumb to keep you out of trouble: if you truly only had two, and you spent at least 90 minutes or more hanging out, you’re probably fine. Anything more than that is starting to get you into the grey area of being buzzed. And as you know, buzzed driving is drunk driving.
When a police officer administers a breathalyzer on the side of the road, here’s what they’re looking for: if you blow in the .30’s, you’re buzzed, and you could get a DUI (driving while under the influence). If you blow in the .50’s or .60’s, you’re almost definitely going to get a DUI. And if you blow an .80 or higher, now we’re talking DWI (Driving While Intoxicated). In some states (NY included), if you have a kid in the backseat, you’re going to jail. It’s a felony. (If you’re dumb enough to drive drunk with a kid in the back, and you get caught before you killed someone, consider yourself lucky).
One average drink will get you to around .20, two drinks will get you to .40, and so on. Then, every hour you lose at least .10. Therefore, my rule is that if you drink two or less, and spend 90 minutes or more, then you will pass a breathalyzer with a blood alcohol content of under .30. (That is, unless you are a truck driver or work in some other DOT regulated industry, where the maximum allowable blood alcohol level is .19). But again, it’s a general guideline, not to be taken as a “rule”, and remember – zero alcohol is the only sure thing for avoiding trouble.
Drunk in the Morning
Health Street administers a lot of breathalyzers to truck drivers and other workers, sometimes randomly, and sometimes due to reasonable suspicion or post accident. And we catch a lot of people who are intoxicated while performing safety sensitive functions, which means they were putting themselves and others at risk. But the strangest thing is that a majority of the positives are first thing in the morning!
Yup, people wake up drunk from the night before, grab their car keys and a cup of strong coffee and head out to work. Yet, sleeping does not make you sober. And, by the way, nor does coffee, bread, greasy food, or any other trick you may have heard in college. The only thing that makes you sober is time, and it matters not whether you were asleep or downing a bacon cheese burger during that time. So next time you go out late and throw back a whole lot of liquor, remember that it may not even be okay to drive the next morning.
The only way to know for sure? A breathalyzer. Just don’t let it be administered by a cop on the side of the road.