Drinking and driving: What you need to know
YOU'RE at the work Christmas party downing a few beers and you feel fine - you've even had something to eat - so you're OK to drive home right? Nope.
You don't need to feel drunk to be affected by booze. Even small amounts of alcohol can affect your concentration, judgment and performance.
Although you feel OK, your reaction times are slower than normal and your concentration is dulled - vital skills required to negotiate a tonne of speeding metal.
The silly season revolves around back-to-back Christmas parties and events and while we don't want to be the fun police, there's no need to put yourself and others in danger.
And don't think you won't get caught drinking and driving, police conduct around five million breath tests each year in NSW and every police car is a mobile RBT (random breath testing).
Depending on the type of offence, if you are caught drink driving NSW Police may suspend your licence immediately.
If you are convicted, significant penalties apply, including fines and even prison terms. You will be disqualified from driving and may also be ordered to install an alcohol interlock.
"We want everyone to have a great time and get home alive, so as the holiday season gears up it's important people understand how difficult it is to guess their blood alcohol concentration (BAC), " says Alcohol and Drug Foundation spokesperson, Laura Bajurny.
"Even if a person uses a breathalyser in a bar, or has a personal breathalyser, they should know those readings can't fully be relied on as accurate because breathalysers need to be regularly calibrated and accuracy can differ between models."
BLOOD ALCOHOL LEVELS
If you get pulled over for a random breath test, the police will test your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
The legal limit for driving in Australia is a BAC of 0.05 per cent, meaning you have 0.05g of alcohol in every 100ml of blood.
So to avoid a driving under the influence charge, you must be under 0.05 per cent.
How do you stay under the limit?
For men of average size to stay under the limit: no more than 2 standard drinks in the first hour and 1 drink per hour after that.
For women of average size to stay under the limit: no more than 1 standard drink per hour.
But this is not a guarantee, you could still blow above the limit even if you follow these rules.
Bajurny says in general, the smaller you are, the less you can drink to stay under the limit.
Drinking on an empty stomach
A person with an empty stomach will get drunk sooner than someone who has just eaten a meal. Alcohol can absorb into the stomach and bloodstream quicker when there is no food. Eating won't stop someone from getting drunk though.
Your body fat
"People who have more body fat will get drunk quicker," says Bajurny.
Women's bodies, being generally smaller than those of men and with a higher ratio of fatty tissue to lean muscle, will absorb alcohol more quickly than men's bodies do.
This means that a woman drinking the same amount of alcohol as a man, will have a high BAC quicker than the man will.
Less experienced drinkers have a lower tolerance to alcohol and so their BAC is likely to rise more quickly than more experienced drinkers.
"Alcohol reduces inhibitions and increases impulsivity, so if someone hasn't already arranged a way home, they may be more tempted to drink and drive after they've consumed alcohol," says Bajurny.
"People may be more likely to drink and drive if they don't understand how alcohol affects the brain and body, or don't know what a standard drink is. People with limited transport options may also be tempted to drink and get behind the wheel."
SOBERING UP TAKES A LONG TIME
Even after a big night, you could still have alcohol in your system for much of the next day. And sorry that midnight kebab ain't going to straighten you out.
There is no way to speed up the rate your body gets rid of alcohol.
A healthy liver breaks down less than one standard drink per hour - and if your liver is damaged it takes longer.
The only thing that sobers you up is time.
After a big night of drinking, it can take up to 18 hours for your blood alcohol concentration to get back to zero, so think twice before driving the next day. Hundreds of people are booked for drink driving the day after a bender.
If you think about how many standard drinks you had the night before, wait at least that many hours before driving. For example if you had 10 schooners, wait at least 10 hours before thinking about getting behind the wheel.
The number of standard drinks in beer:
The number of standard drinks in wine:
In Australia, it's illegal to drive with a BAC over 0.05 per cent. Even below this, your judgment, reaction times and driving skill are not as good as you may think they are. For example, you are twice as likely to have a crash when driving with a BAC of 0.05 per cent, versus no alcohol.
If you are a learner driver, provisional or probationary driver (regardless of age), truck and bus driver, driving instructor or convicted of driving under the influence (DUI), you must have a 0.00 per cent BAC in most Australian states or territories.