New limits on drunk driving: The science behind .04
Driving with a blood-alcohol level of .04 or more can lead to some serious consequences in Saskatchewan.
The province’s new impaired driving legislation came into effect Jan. 1. Most people in the province know the new laws mean tougher penalties and a lower legal limit, but many likely don’t know the science behind the .04 number.
Here’s what you need to know about the new laws and the new limit:
The province’s new impaired driving laws have been in effect for a little more than two months.
Under the new legislation, experienced drivers who are pulled over for the first time with a blood-alcohol content over .04 will have their vehicle seized for three days. Under the previous laws, there was no vehicle seizure for .04.
There is also zero tolerance for drivers 21 and under, as well as for all new drivers, with the new laws. The age for zero tolerance previously was 19.
The new legislation also makes ignition interlock laws in Saskatchewan the toughest in Canada. The devices are mandatory for drivers who blow over .08 or refuse to provide a breath sample. The duration of having the device in your vehicle is now longer under the new legislation.
Science behind .04
When you drink alcohol, it goes into your stomach where it’s absorbed before travelling through your blood and to your brain. The effects are almost instant, according Marcella Ogenchuk, an assistant professor in the college of nursing at the University of Saskatchewan.
“It slows down our reflexes, it slows down the way we react and, more importantly, when it comes to drinking and driving, it also slows down our judgement,” she said.
Ogenchuk has been studying alcohol and its effects for a decade. She teaches courses for repeat impaired drivers and educates youth on drinking and driving. She said, even at a .04 blood-alcohol content, your reflexes are slower.
“Some people say that at .04 you are twice as likely already to become in a motor vehicle accident as if you were not drinking any alcohol at all,” Ogenchuk said, emphasizing the amount of alcohol it takes to reach a blood-alcohol content of .04 is different for everybody.
Your BAC is dependent on numerous factors including how much you’ve eaten, your overall health, your water intake during alcohol consumption, and your gender. Women metabolize alcohol differently than men and, because women have less water in their bodies, they need less alcohol to feel the effects, Ogenchuk explained.
Some say they feel comfortable driving after consuming one alcoholic drink, but Ogenchuk said many people don’t know what one standard drink consists of.
A pint, for example, is 25 per cent more than a standard drink of beer, which is 12 ounces and five per cent alcohol. A standard glass of wine or a cooler is considered five ounces of 12 per cent alcohol, while hard liquor is 1.5 ounces of 40 per cent alcohol.
Effects of alcohol
According to SGI, one to two alcoholic drinks could be enough to put your blood-alcohol content at .05, which could make you feel more relaxed while your judgement, inhibition, alertness and reaction time all decrease.
Three to four drinks could result in a BAC between .05 and .10, which could cause you to be clumsy and exaggerate your behavior.
Criminal charges are possible after a BAC of .08.
After consuming five to seven drinks, your BAC could be at .10 to .15, which could affect your vision and make you feel emotional.
You could be slurring, staggering and have a BAC of .15 to.30 after having eight to 10 drinks.
After more than 10 drinks and a BAC of more than .30, you could become lethargic, unaware of your surroundings and have trouble breathing.
Death is possible after a BAC of more than .40, according to SGI.
A night’s sleep may not be enough time to sober you up, according to SGI.
Alcohol leaves your system at 0.015 per cent per hour, which means if you are at a blood-alcohol content of .25 — which is possible after eight to 10 drinks — it could take 10 to 24 hours for the alcohol to metabolize.
If you went to bed at 1 a.m. with a BAC of 0.25, you could still be over .08 at 10 a.m., and at 3 p.m. you could blow over .04. It could take as long as long as 16 hours — until after 5 p.m. — for your BAC to get back down to zero.
The new legislation has created tougher consequences when it comes to impaired driving. If you’re an experienced driver, it’s your first offence and your blood-alcohol content is within the warning range of .04 to .08, you’ll receive a three-day vehicle suspension, your vehicle will be impounded, you’ll lose four points off your license, and you’ll have to take an impaired driving course. It could cost you between $435 and $1,490.
In the most extreme case, the financial consequences could cost you $17,750 if it’s not your first offence and you blow over .16 or refuse to take a breathalyzer. Your vehicle would also be impounded, you’d receive a three-day suspension and an impaired driving course would be mandatory. You would have to get a vehicle ignition interlock and you could lose between 10 and 42 points off your license.
In addition to financial and administrative consequences, causing injury or death to someone else because of drunk driving can be devastating.
In 2015, 54 people lost their lives and there were 1,200 collisions and nearly 600 injuries because of impaired driving in Saskatchewan, according to SGI. Almost 5,000 people received roadside suspensions for drinking and driving in 2015, and there were almost 4,800 impaired driving-related convictions.
Saskatchewan has the worst impaired driving record of all provinces in the country.
It’s too early to know what, if any, effect the new legislation has on impaired driving rates. SGI says police reports are still being filed from 2016.
Law enforcement, SGI and others share the same sentiment: not to drink anything before getting behind the wheel.
“To have our reaction time at 100 per cent, the best thing to do is not drink,” Ogenchuk said.
Which has some asking: why stop now when zero tolerance is just .04 away.
Correction made on March 9, there were 1,200 impaired driving collisions, not 12,000 as was originally reported.