There are a few statements I hear over and over in DUI cases: “I felt like I was okay to drive”, and “I have a really high tolerance”. Unfortunately, your personal tolerance to alcohol is not recognized by a chemical test. Even if a person feels as though they can have 3 beers and be safe to drive, it in no way means they are under the legal limit or are driving without impairment on some level. A person may feel little to no effect when their blood alcohol level is at a .09% but that is still over the legal limit for the purposes of the DUI laws. This is whether or not you are actually feeling the impairment. Yes, there are plenty of studies out there which demonstrate that a persons blood alcohol level is a poor predictor of impairment however, it is still illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more.
I decided to do a little experiment of my own in the sanctity of my home with all vehicles parked safely in our driveway and keys laid to rest in the kitchen drawer. I used a properly calibrated preliminary alcohol screening device, like the ones used by peace officers and started collecting data. First I decided that I would have a few drinks and check my alcohol level as soon as I felt I was NOT okay to drive. I had two 12 oz beers in one hour and felt I was not okay to drive. I felt intoxicated and knew I wouldn’t be able to drive without committing major traffic violations and/or possibly getting into an accident. I blew into the breathalyzer and got a reading of .04%. I was completely surprised. Had I driven that night I would have been under the legal limit BUT I can certainly tell you that I would have been afraid to drive based on the way I was feeling. Even though my alcohol level was low I was impaired. According to the blood alcohol concentration charts I should have been able to have at least three beers in one hour and still only be .07%.
The other half of the experiment was slightly different. I had asked my male friend to go ahead and have some beers and then tell me and at what point he felt he could still drive, but knew he shouldn’t. I have heard people say they knew they probably shouldn’t have been driving given the amount of alcohol they consumed but still felt like they were not impaired. After about 4 hours he decided that he could still drive but knew if he were to get pulled over he was probably only .08%. His words! His actual BAC was .114%.
These are two very different scenarios but I think the message is clear. You can’t rely on your own personal tolerance or your own opinion of how high your blood alcohol level is. You will see a wide range of alcohol tolerance from person to person. Some people can still appear to others to be sober even with higher BAC’s while others, like myself, are impaired at extremely low levels. I have seen video of DUI suspects who can walk a perfectly straight line and talk without any slurred speech at a .21%. On the other hand, I’ve seen DUI suspects get convicted with a blood alcohol level of .07%.
The easiest thing to do when you’re drinking is to let a sober friend drive you home or call a cab. Tell yourself that every time you go out and have a few drinks the cost of a cab ride home is always part of your budget. There are now plenty of companies who will not only give you a ride home but they will also provide a driver for your vehicle. You arrive home with your car safely. Amazingly there is a local company here in Sacramento who provides this service and it’s ALWAYS at least $1-2 cheaper than a cab ride alone.