If you are like the average person, you never give the meaning of BAC levels a second thought. Even if you know that a person’s blood alcohol concentration is the gauge for whether they were driving under the influence, you don’t think it will ever apply to you. Everyone should know more about BAC levels and the consequences of a DUI arrest.
What Is BAC?
Blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, is the amount of alcohol you have in your bloodstream or on your breath. BAC levels are measured with a breathalyzer, blood sample, or urine test. The measure is determined by calculating the weight of ethanol in grams in 100 milliliters of your blood or 210 liters of breath. One problem with this test is that there are variations among people who drink. Your body weight, sex, and percentage of body fat can change how you respond to drinking.
You’ve probably known someone who could seemingly drink all day and never act drunk. They are so tolerant of alcohol that it doesn’t phase them at all. Other people, on the other hand, have little or no tolerance. They have one drink at the bar and they can’t find their car. We all have different tolerances to alcohol.
The Real Impact of Drinking Alcohol
Alcohol is a drug that affects mood and limits the brain’s activities. We often separate people who drink alcohol into two classes: those who drink socially and those who are addicted. Alcohol is a part of many social settings. Drinking beer goes hand-in-hand with watching Monday night football. Meeting friends after work for dinner and drinks is your ideal social event. Some people enjoy a drink alone in the evenings to help them unwind.
Maybe you don’t see the similarity between yourself and the alcoholic who spends every spare moment at the local bar. But if you cause a crash that hurts someone else, it’s your BAC levels that determine if you are to blame.
Defining Legal Intoxication
In most states, a BAC level of .08 or higher is considered legal intoxication. If you drive with an alcohol concentration of .08 or higher, you can be charged with DUI or DWI. This number is .04% for commercial drivers. For drivers under 21 years of age, there is a zero tolerance limit. Any alcohol reading at all is grounds for a DUI or DWI arrest.
There are two problems with using these numbers as a guideline for how much you can drink and drive. One is that even if your BAC is within the legal limit, you could still be impaired. Another is that it’s impossible to know your BAC before you get behind the wheel.
Many advocates are pushing to lower the legal limit to .04 or .05. Other countries with these lower legal limits have data that backs up the claims that lower limits are more effective at keeping the roads safe. Numerous studies in the US have also shown that driving with an alcohol concentration between .05 and .07 increases the risk of having a fatal crash by 4 to 7 times. That means you could still cause an accident, even if you aren’t driving illegally. It also means you are at a greater risk of being hit by another driver who won’t get arrested for DUI.
How Different BAC Levels Impact Drivers
|BAC LEVEL RANGE||HOW THEY AFFECT YOU|
|0.020 – 0.039||Slight euphoria, loss of shyness, relaxed without the depressed effects|
|0.040 – 0.059||An exaggerated sense of well-being, feeling relaxed with fewer inhibitions. Euphoria, with a sensation of warmth. Impairment of judgment is minimal as is memory.|
|0.060 – 0.099||Minimal impairment of balance, vision, speech, reaction time, and hearing. Feelings of euphoria. Reduced judgment and self-control, reasoning, and memory.|
|0.100 – 0.129||Significant impairment of motor coordination and judgment. Slurred speech, impairment of balance, reaction time, peripheral vision, and hearing.|
|0.130 – 0.159||Gross motor impairment with a lack of physical control. Blurred vision with a serious loss of balance. The sense of euphoria is beginning to give way to feelings of being unwell.|
|0.160 – 0.199||Feelings of being unwell become more severe, possible nausea. At this point, it is evident to others that the drinker is intoxicated.|
|0.200 – 0.249||The person can no longer walk without assistance. They are completely mentally confused, have intense feelings of being unwell, accompanied by nausea and vomiting. It’s possible they will suffer blackouts.|
|0.250 – 0.399||Alcohol poisoning and a loss of consciousness.|
|0.40 and higher||Coma, and potential death due to respiratory arrest.|
How Your Body Processes Alcohol
Once alcohol is in your system, the only way to get it out is to wait. All those old remedies people swear by aren’t effective at all. Your liver processes the alcohol you consume. It takes about one hour to process one ounce of alcohol. After that, it is detectable in your blood for several hours and in your urine for several days.
When you drink, your body quickly absorbs about 20% of the alcohol into the bloodstream through your stomach. The small intestine absorbs the remaining 80%. Any alcohol that doesn’t get metabolized will leave your body through your saliva, sweat, and urine.
From the bloodstream, the alcohol travels to the liver where it is metabolized. That means the liver breaks down the molecules. When you drink a lot of alcohol, your liver can’t process all of it at one time. The excess stays in the body. The more alcohol you have in your body, the higher your BAC levels will be.
Alcohol levels remain high for longer in people who are older and whose blood flow is slower. Medications frequently used by older people can also affect the liver. That means your age can indicate alcohol is processed at a slower rate. When your body absorbs a higher volume of alcohol, your BCA is higher for a longer period.
If you are a woman, alcohol might stay in your system longer than it would in a man’s. That’s because women have more body fat and less body water than men. Body size also has an impact. People with a smaller frame and/or who weigh less usually feel a stronger impact.
If you eat before you drink, it helps prevent your stomach from absorbing the alcohol. Always have a full meal before drinking to help reduce the impact it has on you.
How Long Alcohol Stays in Your Body
The factors listed above determine the impact alcohol has on your body. Your BAC levels determine how long it stays in your bloodstream. The body eliminates alcohol at a rate of 0.015 each hour. That means if you have a BAC of 0.05, it will take about 3-1/2 hours to get it out of your body. If you have 0.08, the level of illegal intoxication, it will take about 5-1/2 hours. This is only an estimate. If you drink on a full stomach, you might still have alcohol in you the next day.
The most common testing method for BAC is to use a breathalyzer. Alcohol is detectable in your breath for as many as 24 hours after your last drink. Attorneys representing people charged with DUI/DUW often challenge the reliability of breathalyzer tests. Some legal defenses include failure to obtain consent, failure to calibrate the breathalyzer, or not following the testing procedure. It’s important to hold people accountable who cause injury to others while driving drunk. But if you are falsely charged for driving while intoxicated, contact an attorney right away.
The Impact of Impaired Driving in the United States
The battle against drunk driving has been a long and hard-fought one. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) began their efforts to make an impact on the number of drunk drivers on our roads in 1980. They have a high success rate and their goals focus on reducing drunk driving deaths. But while the organization has won numerous battles, the war against drunk driving continues.
In 2016, 10,497 people died in crashes involving drunk drivers. Of 1,233 deaths of children, from infants to 14 years, 214 involved alcohol. During the same year, law enforcement arrested more than 1 million drivers for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
Texting and driving has taken on the image of being the new DUI. The problem is that DUI is still a major cause of car crashes and fatalities. It also affects more young people than it does older, more experienced drivers.
Of drivers with BAC levels of 0.08 or higher who were involved in fatal crashes during 2016, about 3 in 10 were between the ages of 25 and 34 years old. The next highest age group included those aged 21 to 24 years. Young people at all BAC levels are at a greater risk of being in a crash than those who are older.
These numbers prove that the problem of drunk driving is far from finished. But you can do your part. Know how much you can drink before you pass the legal limit.
How Much Is Too Much?
The best way to ensure you aren’t driving impaired is to not drive after consuming any amount of alcohol. Many people overestimate their ability to “handle their liquor.” You can order your own personal breathalyzer online to test your BAC before you drive. But in some states, you don’t have to be at 0.08 to get arrested. Some states have a zero tolerance policy. Others can arrest you if they believe you are “noticeably impaired.”
The basic formula to remember is that a standard drink is equal to ½ ounce of alcohol. That’s the equivalent of one 12-ounce beer, 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, or one 5-ounce glass of wine. Theoretically, drinking one standard drink per hour should keep you within save BAC levels. But with all the variables that affect how the body processes alcohol, it’s impossible to say.
What to Do if You’re Hit by a Drunk Driver
Any accident is frightening. A crash involving another driver who is acting erratically or who smells of alcohol can add to the fear and confusion. Even if there’s not a lot of damage to your vehicle, call the police. There’s a good chance the other driver won’t remember the crash the same way that you do, if at all. This is your only chance to gather important evidence to your case. There is a limited time during which you can test their BAC levels. You also want to let them know about the drunk driver so they can prevent them from hitting someone else.
Collect evidence while you wait for law enforcement to respond. Use your cell phone to take pictures of all vehicles involved. If you suspect the other driver has been drinking, notice if there are open containers in or around their car. Get pictures of these as well. Also, get the names and contact information for any witnesses.
Don’t try to talk with the other driver if they are obviously intoxicated. Leave it to law enforcement to measure their BAC levels and make any pertinent charges.
Once law enforcement arrives, give them all the details that pertain to the crash. Don’t take any blame for the accident or deny having injuries. Even though you feel fine at the time, it might be due to raised adrenaline levels. Once the intensity of the crash passes, you may start to feel the pain. If law enforcement asks if you are injured, tell them you aren’t sure.
Get medical treatment immediately after the crash. Make sure the healthcare provider knows that you were in a car accident. Tell them any symptoms that you have, even if they don’t seem important. A headache, sore back, or nausea might be symptoms of something serious.
Make an appointment with a personal injury attorney. They know the laws of your state and how they apply to your case. If you are hit by a drunk driver, contact Krasney Law to request a consultation. You do everything you can to keep the roads safe. Let us help protect your rights and get compensation for your injuries.