Thursday, 4 December 2014

New Scottish drink-driving limit: how not to fall foul

Rules for drinking and driving. Just the one. Just the one rule, that is:

 If you’re driving, do not drink anything alcoholic. At all.

Some doctors of my acquaintance used to talk about ‘New Zealand rules’  - which, incidentally, I’ve never been able to track down - guidelines allegedly aimed at rural doctors who faced constant sobriety while socialising due to public transport being unavailable. The deal was that it takes approximately one hour to metabolise one unit of alcohol. So you gauge your drinking over an evening to leave you under the driving limit by the time you get in the car.

This is bullshit. Here are a couple of reasons. 



First, the notion of ‘a unit’ when you’re drinking delicious craft beers of anything between 5 and  10 per cent alcohol, or malt whiskies ranging from 40 to 57.9 per cent. How do you assess the number of units, especially when you’re being served varying quantities? One small (330ml) bottle of Duvel Golden Ale, 8.5 per cent, contains 2.81 units. But the delivery mechanism (fizzy, delicious, and it’s beer, award-winning ‘World’s best’ beer) means three will put you on your back and deliver the worst hangover in the world, too. Believe me, I know. Not for nothing is it called The Devil. Made by Monks, too, Belgian ones. They’re experts in brewing. And in demonology.

Second, people, and drinking conditions, vary. Different body weights, different degrees of liver capacity/damage, different amounts/types of food consumed, even different times of day - all can change the way alcohol works on your system. I haven’t drunk at lunchtime for years - until a rural Shetland occasion a few months ago when I had a single, small glass of wine with a salad, leaving me well within driving limits but almost comatose.

Third, alcohol is not some magic potion that makes you a better driver. Why imagine that it is? Unless you seriously can’t do without it, in which case you have a problem. Nor, for that matter, does it make you a better conversationalist, or even more relaxed and more adept at social interraction. You don’t need a ‘digestif’ to make that meal go down. Lacking one glass of red wine is not going to mean you will have a heart attack. Take a soluble aspirin instead. Yum!

If you work for Network Rail, you're subject to random breath tests at all times. The limit for all employees is not 80 mg, not 50, but 29 mg per 100 millilitres of blood. In Northern Ireland, legislation is pending to bring in a 50 mg limit, like Scotland, but in addition just 20 mg, which basically means nothing, for the recently qualified (up to two years) and professionals such as lorry or taxi drivers. 

I think that lower limit sends a more precise and better message: 

Do not drink and drive. At all.

One more thing. “I think I’ll leave the car.” Fair enough. You have that great sense of relief that you can now get absolutely guttered without worrying about anything but the taxi fare home and remembering where you parked. When you come back to get the car next...when?

Because a full-on binge (and this is Scotland, come on, that’s what we do. We like our moods to be well and truly altered) will not leave you with the ability to count up your units with any accuracy. ‘Proper’, especially wedding, party or seasonal drinking, will leave you over the limit the next day. Definitely. It’s not even a question of when, next day, your blood alcohol dips below the legal limit. It’s when you’re sober, as opposed to thinking you’re sober.

My informal  rule, and take it from One Who Binges, or at least Has Frequently Binged? 

Heavy drinking session, leave a 24 hour gap before driving. Or broadcasting. Or operating a chainsaw.

I mean, this isn’t for a laugh. This isn’t waking up on the couch at noon, gazing out the open door to the car, sitting in the street with the engine running and the driver’s door open, wondering ruefully how on earth you got home.  This isn’t even about health. It’s about not killing yourself and, more important, not killing other people.

So if you’re going to drink, take it seriously. I like that Innes and Gunn advert - ‘make it Innes and None’ . Brave of them. Though not a problem for me, as I’ve always found their beers, far, far too sweet. And strong.

To be honest, I’d much rather have a Duvel...


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