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6 dangerous myths everyone should know about alcohol and driving

Alcohol has been found to be a factor in 38% of fatal crashes in Ireland.

Image: Shutterstock/Art_Photo

WHAT HARM COULD one pint possibly do? Well, according to a wealth of research by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) – a lot of damage to people’s lives.

Alcohol is actually a factor in nearly 40% of all fatal car crashes in Ireland, and almost a quarter of these drivers- were below the legal limit when they happened. 

And to cut down on the small number of people who continue to get behind the wheel after drinking, there is now an automatic disqualification for three months for anyone found driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of between 50mg and 80mg (0.05% – 0.08%).

Here’s the unavoidable truth behind why alcohol and driving can lead to such a lethal situation on the road.

Myth 1: I can sober myself up before I leave

The speed at which we break down alcohol is very individual as it is influenced by things like our gender, what kind of drinks we’ve had and even whether we’ve consumed them in the pub or at home (where it’s harder to keep count and the measures are more generous). Here’s a rough idea of how long it might take for you, and unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to speed it up. The only real cure is time.

A person gets rid of roughly one standard drink per hour (half a pint, one glass of wine or one shot). Things like drinking coffee, which can actually be dangerous as it tricks you into feeling more alert and sober, does nothing. According to Healthline, cold showers and throwing up after drinking also have no impact on blood alcohol concentration as it enters the bloodstream so quickly.

Myth 2: One drink makes no difference

paloma-a-439191-unsplash Source: Unsplash

The RSA estimates that between 2008 and 2012 an average of 7-8 people were killed in collisions each year where drivers had BAC levels of between 21mg and 80mg (the limit is now 50mg). Alcohol affects your peripheral vision, increases your reaction time to hazards, can cause you to drive too fast or too slow, up on the kerb or into the wrong lane.

A study from the University of California found that even a BAC of 0.01% increases a driver’s culpability for a crash. Just to put that into perspective, after two to three glasses of wine, most women would have a BAC of 0.08%.

Myth 3: Tiredness won’t affect the alcohol I drink

Ever noticed how differently a drink will hit you on Friday night after a long week than it might on say, Sunday night after you’ve had a chance to catch up on sleep? That’s because tiredness can make alcohol twice as potent, according to the RSA. 

According to an illuminating RSA survey, motorists who admit to driving after consuming alcohol have a higher than average incidence of falling asleep at the wheel (almost 1 in 5 had). The RSA points to French research that found as little as 0.01 BAC triples the likelihood of death or serious injury between the hours of 12am and 5am.

Myth 4: Only very drunk drivers have collisions

ian-valerio-594874-unsplash Source: Unsplash

Offering ample evidence to the ‘one drink is grand’ myth, it’s not always the drivers who are way over the limit that cause crashes. For example, between 2008 and 2012, 16 people (6%) were killed in collisions in which the driver had a BAC of between 50mg and 80mg – the exact figure that will now gain you an automatic three-month disqualification. 

In fact in 2000 it was found in one study that “impairment of some driving-related skills begins with any departure from zero BAC”, according to the RSA. Another study found the risk of being involved in a fatal crash for drivers with levels of between 20mg-40mg is between two and five times higher than those who have no alcohol in their system.

Myth 5: I’ll definitely be grand by the morning

Especially if you drink into the early hours, it may take longer than the time that you sleep to normalise your blood alcohol levels. And if you got less sleep the night before, this will actually magnify the negative impacts of alcohol in your system – making it even more dangerous.

This explains why some 12% of all drink driving arrests occur between 8am and 2pm the day after drinking and why 10% of all driver alcohol-related collisions occur between the hours of 7am and 11am. 

Myth 6: Ireland’s laws are stricter than elsewhere

FILE IMAGE GARDAÍ HAVE RELEASED drink driving statistics suggesting that 15,000 additional drink driving arrests have been carried out in the past 10 years compared to what was previously thought. END. Source: Sam Boal/Rolling News

In some EU countries such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the BAC limit for drivers is actually zero. In others like Estonia, Poland and Sweden it’s 20mg – even lower than Ireland’s current 50mg, while Finland and Cyprus have limits of 22mg. Most of the rest of Europe reflect our own limits.

Though the UK still officially remains 80mg, there are plans underway in both Northern Ireland and Scotland to bring it to match Ireland’s limit. Malta is the only other country that remains at 80mg, which goes directly against the EU’s official recommendations for what constitute dangerous levels when driving. 

Think it’s harmless to drink and drive? Not if you want to be able to drive again – since July 2018, if you’re found driving with a blood alcohol concentration level of 50mg – 80mg, you’ll receive an automatic disqualification for three months. The advice of the Road Safety Authority would be never ever drink and drive. Find out more here.

Read more: How much do you know about the Garda roadside drug tests?

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