EDMONTON - You’ve had a rough work day.
You skipped lunch and filled up on bitter coffee and Christmas chocolates.
You’re dying to have a brewsky or quick glass of wine with colleagues at the pub, then head home to help with the kids.
But you wonder: could you safely drive home now that police can impound your car and suspend your licence for three days if you blow over .05 but under the .08 limit? It isn’t a criminal offence, but the consequences can be nasty.
Go right ahead, says the CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada. One standard drink — and standard is the sticking point — won’t put you beyond the .05 mark (meaning you have 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood).
That doesn’t mean a margarita with a double shot. Not a beer schooner, not a pint, not even a generous glass of wine that has 15-per-cent alcohol instead of 12 or 13 per cent.
That’s one standard drink. Period.
“Almost everyone, except an 80-pounder who weighs nothing, could drive home immediately,” says Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada. “You’ll be fine.”
But that one standard drink — one 12-ounce bottle of beer at five-per-cent alcohol, one five-ounce glass of wine at 12-per-cent alcohol, or a 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor (at 40-per-cent-alcohol) in your cola or gingerale — is where the generalities generally end.
For one thing, “standard” is no longer always standard. Many people tipple pints, or roughly 568 millilitres of beer, compared to the 341-millilitre bottle. And Erick Rosende, director of the Ultimate Bartending School in Edmonton, points out that pubs such as the Black Dog on Whyte Avenue or Earls restaurants use English-size pint glasses, which hold 18 ounces rather than the usual 16 ounces.
Many wines these days are poured in six- or nine-ounce servings, and wine makers are making Chardonnays or Shirazs with alcohol content higher than the average 12 to 13 per cent, with some sitting at 15 or 16 per cent.
“Wine is the dangerous drink,” Murie says.
Pouring wine can also be tricky. Even Rosende, an expert bartender with 20 years experience and 10 years instructing, slightly overpours a tiny five-ounce carafe while demonstrating.
“See how subjective it is?” he points out with a Chilean red at the Empire Ballroom in West Edmonton Mall.
Finally, establishments measuring highballs can splash extra vodka or rum into a drink when the vibe is jiving, the tips are generous or the steak houses are crammed with eager customers wanting quick service, Rosende says.
Both he and Murie say take note of your environment when you’re consuming. And get educated.
“What’s one drink?” Rosende says. “It will create an awareness for social drinkers. They are going to think twice about that second glass of wine.”
And restaurants and bars will have to think outside the box to stay in business, offering desserts or cappuccinos, Rosende says. He believes neighbourhood pubs within easy walking distance may thrive.
That, he supports. The new .05 rules? He supports those, too, although he’s a zero-tolerance kind of guy who has rarely tippled since his son was born eight months ago. Rosende isn’t fond of all the grey within Alberta’s new legislation, which leaves too much guesswork to individuals. When he drinks, he rides a cab.
Many other factors come into play in determining safe, risky or dangerous blood-alcohol levels.
Women typically get tipsy and drunk faster than men. Not only are they smaller and weigh less — and therefore have less blood to dilute the alcohol — their bodies have more fatty tissue. Fat contains more water while muscle contains more blood, and water absorbs alcohol more quickly than muscle. So a woman at 150 pounds will typically have a higher blood-alcohol level than a muscular man at the same weight, even if they drink the same amount of alcohol.
“If you’re a 225-pound guy, you could have two or three (drinks) and they still won’t have a problem,” Murie said. “Females are much more at risk than males. … You’ve got to pay attention. A woman can’t match the man drink to drink.”
Drinking on a full stomach during a relaxing two- to three-hour dinner will help slow the absorption of alcohol into the blood, keeping the blood-alcohol level lower longer.
“She could have two drinks, I could have three drinks and we’re well below that .05 threshold with a meal,” Murie says. “You know, that’s what I would call — what most people would call — typical social drinking, and those are not the individuals this .05 law are targeting. That’s the myth that a lot of people have thrown out in this debate: you can’t even have a glass of wine with dinner. Wrong. It’s not true.”
“If you go in and pound a couple back really quickly, you’ve elevated that blood-alcohol level really quickly as well,” Murie offers as warning.
Young drinkers? Watch yourselves. With your lack of driving experience, you already have higher crash rates when sober. While adults with blood-alcohol levels of .05 see their crash rates go up 10 to 14 times the usual, quadruple that yet again if you’re between 18 and 25, Murie said.
“They’re inexperienced drinkers,” who often drink simply to get drunk, he said. “It’s all done in a hurry-up level.”
Experienced drinkers or those who’ve been behind the wheel for years may feel safer than younger people, since their bodies have learned and remember the repetitive actions associated with driving. But that doesn’t mean their blood-alcohol levels are any lower or their actions less criminal, Murie said. While they may be good at the usual driving from Point A to Point B, they die or kill others when they are forced to swerve, slam on their brakes or make sudden reactive decisions.
It’s those people, Murie says, who are most positively affected by the new .05 consequences. They can adjust their drinking, not to legal limits but to lower levels, and if they do the crash rates will go down, Murie says. They may have four to five drinks instead of seven to eight, then drive.
“When you lower blood-alcohol levels (with legislation) — this is worldwide — it has the biggest impact on lowering crash rates for those people who are double the legal limit and above,” he said. And those who drive at blood-alcohol levels of .16 or more make up 60 per cent of dead drunk drivers.
“When people say MADD’s out there, a tempest organization out to get all the drinkers, show me an example where that’s true,” Murie says.
Sweating, vomiting or urinating won’t help you sober up faster. The liver metabolizes about 95 per cent of the alcohol, so the body can only excrete about five per cent by breathing, sweating, defecating or urinating.
Once you stop drinking, the body gets rid of the alcohol at a rate of about 0.015 per cent every hour.
“The only thing that gets alcohol out of your system is time and it’s very slow,” Murie said. He encourages people to use but not rely on blood-alcohol charts and their level of consumption.
“We don’t see the customer as a number,” Rosende says. “Our job is still to provide service and look for symptoms of intoxication.”