Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: When "common sense" isn't

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  • Stewart,

    People not being able to accurately measure their blood (or breath) alcohol levels makes it difficult for them to make an informed decision around driving capability and/or legality.
    There is a degree of variability in the succeptibility of individuals to alcohol and it seems naive to rely on the general (drinking) public to err on the side of caution and 'hope' that they are safe to drive. The guidelines that get trotted out seem to vary quite a bit which again doesn't help people to make informed decisions.

    Te Ika A Maui - Waitakere… • Since Oct 2008 • 563 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Stewart,

    The old "two drinks in the first hour and one every hour thereafter" is pretty safe for most of the population, if followed correctly*. Small people (as in, less than 45 kg) will be on or slightly over the limit, and should be more conservative (drop one of the drinks?), but average adult males will be hovering around 0.05 if they stick to that. I'm a little surprised to find that I could supposedly neck 5 beers and be under the limit 40 mins after the drinking commenced.

    *A standard drink has to be actually standard for this to work ie it must have 18ml of alcohol in it, approximately.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8313 posts Report Reply

  • Stewart, in reply to BenWilson,

    Yeah, but that's waffly shite really. (Not your post, but the fact that it is so imprecise and not reliable as a guide.) If your host is pouring drinks for you, how do you monitor the alcohol content accurately?
    How much did I eat & how long ago and how much effect is that going to have?

    Relying on people to 'err on the side of caution' isn't going to work for a fair %age of the population.

    Te Ika A Maui - Waitakere… • Since Oct 2008 • 563 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Stewart,

    If your host is pouring drinks for you, how do you monitor the alcohol content accurately?

    If it's spirits, it's a lot more dicking around, for sure, you have to measure the actual spirits used. But for beer and wine, the actual amount is pretty indicative, and you can measure either by the amount poured or the amount left. It's one of the most useful things about drinking from bottles, that you know how much you've had.

    Relying on people to 'err on the side of caution' isn't going to work for a fair %age of the population.

    Yes, those calculations are predicated around making an actual effort to stay legal, and knowing what a safety margin is.

    If you want more accuracy, personal breath-testers are pretty cheap and compact these days, for anyone who must push the limits. Mind you, even those generally aim to just break it down to "safe", "caution" and "danger" levels, with "danger" beginning at 0.05%. Otherwise, I guess, it encourages people to compete on how drunk they are. You'd be getting:
    @buddies W00t just blew .2! cu dogz soon!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8313 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg,

    Attachment

    I guess the 0.08% limit could be seen in context with the limits in the rest of Europe. Only the U.K. has a limit that high.

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Martin Lindberg,

    Yes, although this graphic suggests that it's worth taking care about making assumptions of strong correlation between BAC limits and accident statistics. Russia and Hungary suddenly stop looking quite so sweet. Which is not to say that alcohol isn't a big factor in their high accident rates (Hungary's is especially bad on the per/km traveled stat), just that their 'zero tolerance' may be a form of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. The UK seems to be one of the safer countries on the road.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8313 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    Of course, someone fleeing police may not have any intent of injuring anyone, so treating that as murder kinda mucks up the rest of your position around intent.

    Exercising force with the intent of evading lawful capture is generally treated more seriously than the use of the same force in other circumstances. Making it murder if you kill someone while fleeing police is a logical extension, IMO.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3898 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to BenWilson,

    But I don’t think I’d be so drunk that I couldn’t count, which would be the main way of assessing whether I was legal or not.

    You would, however, be so drunk that your ability to accurately assess risk is significantly diminished. You might not use "I don't feel that drunk" as a yardstick for deciding if you can get behind the wheel, but the law isn't supposed to be aimed at those who're sensible.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3898 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg, in reply to BenWilson,

    ‘zero tolerance’ may be a form of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

    True, but laws are aspirational in the sense that they aspire to change a behaviour that is a problem. One reason that the limit is effectively zero in Sweden is that drunk driving was a big problem. I can only guess that the same goes for the other countries with a zero limit.

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to BenWilson,

    I add a slightly different metric that a lawyer friend of mine picked up at a seminar on drink-drive laws.

    The way he had it explained was via the metaphor of a bathtub. People's bathtubs fill up at different rates (ie: alcohol enters the bloodstream at different rates) but everyone's drains at roughly the same rate -- about one standard drink an hour.

    You'd be an idiot to bet your licence (or other people's safety) on it, but it's a useful way of thinking about the rate at which alcohol leaves your system, and certainly better than just guessing how you are.

    Several years ago, I did drive home one night when I thought I was a bit touch-and-go, got stopped and came up as a "youth fail" -- under 80 but over 50. I was chastened, relieved and kind of shocked. There was no way I'd have considered driving having had any more to drink, but I was still under. When I see reports of people being pulled up at twice the limit (including people I know) I'm astounded by that.

    I had quite a good chat to the cop who tested me, apologised for the bother and acknowledged I'd taken a risk. It was a teachable moment.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18693 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    You would, however, be so drunk that your ability to accurately assess risk is significantly diminished.

    Yup, 0.08 is more impaired than stone cold sober, that's for sure. Not sure entirely what you mean by "able to accurately assess risk". When I'm at 0.08, I'm pretty much the same level of drunk as any other time I'm on 0.08, so knowing that I'm on 0.08 is a pretty accurate assessment of how impaired I am.

    You might not use "I don't feel that drunk" as a yardstick for deciding if you can get behind the wheel, but the law isn't supposed to be aimed at those who're sensible.

    All I'm saying is that people can work out how drunk they are, even when they're drunk, using objective measures. Furthermore, they should be encouraged to do so, to know what their limits are. The limit isn't "how you feel" in the first place. Using that as a measure, and paying no mind to how much you have actually consumed, is the wrong way to do it, and it's better for people to know that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8313 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    but everyone's drains at roughly the same rate -- about one standard drink an hour.

    Is that correct? From the Wiki article on BAC I referenced above, it suggests that the drain rate is not constant across all people, it's proportional. So your BAC drops 0.01% every 40 mins. For an average sized person, this equates to one standard drink, but for smaller people it's less and for larger it's more. So we sober up at roughly the same rate, but the amount you can maintain with isn't the same at all. Someone half my size (which is a lot of people) can't possibly keep pace with me (if I'm maintaining) without progressively getting more and more drunk. link again

    For example, in the table on that page you can see that a 40kg woman who drinks 2 standard drinks will be on 0.10. If 80 mins elapse since she began, she'll be back down to 0.08, but if she has one more drink, she's going to be on 0.13, and it's going to take her a further 200 minutes to be back at 0.08. For me, at around 100kg, after I drink 5 standards, after 80 mins I'll be on about 0.07. If I have another right then, I'll be at 0.09, and will be back at 0.08 in about 40 mins.

    These numbers are based on very rapid absorption. With food in her, the woman will rise to the 0.10 more slowly and might not even get over 0.08. But if she keeps going, it's going to catch up with her. That third drink effectively takes her 280 mins to process before she's back to 0.08, and I doubt she could eat enough food to hold off processing alcohol for that long.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8313 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I once got stopped at a checkpoint outside a restaurant after having drunk a whole bottle of wine. I had judged I was probably OK based on my size, the length of time, and having eaten a large meal, but thought it would be a close run thing. I was really packing when I had to blow in the bag. The resulting reading? 0.00.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8313 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Back to cyclists and road rage, this sort of thing is really horrifying.

    ETA: and this sort of thing, too. A truckie swerving at cyclists? Gotta wonder what’s wrong with people like that.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3415 posts Report Reply

  • DexterX, in reply to Lilith __,

    Both of these incidents are disturbing - the Taupo assault shook me - I feel for the guy - serious pelvic injuries and a broken collar bone.

    The roads are out there to be shared - like so much of everything.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1185 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    My core belief: you shouldn't get in a car if you've been drinking. Or drugging. Lord knows, it's hard enough to drive well when you're sober. And there's enough erratic drivers on the roads already.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Russell Brown,

    The way he had it explained was via the metaphor of a bathtub. People’s bathtubs fill up at different rates (ie: alcohol enters the bloodstream at different rates) but everyone’s drains at roughly the same rate – about one standard drink an hour.

    Of course it's even more complicated than that. The liver enzymes that break down alcohol are incredibly variable between people. Almost everyone will break down alcohol at a slightly different rate. Worse, depending on what elses is going on in your body your liver will behave differently from day to day as will your kidneys. This gets complicated by the fact that the liver enzymes will adjust to stress, that is if you drink regularly the liver will produce more enzyme to process the toxin.

    As for uptake that's a mess as well. Alcohol and water are two of a very small group of chemicals directly absorbed in your stomach, most things are absorbed in your intestines. But the rate of absorbtion is highly variable, almost certainly depends on your parents and what is in your stomach and guts.

    So I'd say the rate you absorb and clear alcohol will be variable from person to person and from day to day.

    You are a complex system and simple rules will never completely cover all the details. But a really simple guideline, if you feel even remotely compromised by alcohol, then you are, and you'd be smart to not drive. But there will be times when you feel fine but are over the limit (been there and known better than to drive) and other times when one glass of wine makes you feel completly unsafe (been there as well and at 100 kg and male I know I was under the limit yet still wouldn't drive).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3261 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    that is if you drink regularly the liver will produce more enzyme to process the toxin

    I should note that even with the liver's amazing ability to process toxins, regular stress by alcohol will produce permanennt damage to the liver that it will never recover from.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3261 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Martin Lindberg,

    the limit is effectively zero in Sweden

    so effectively, they have warnings about not driving on their cough medicine bottles.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16470 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Sacha,

    In a risk averse society, people with coughs shouldn't be driving.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8313 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg,

    A colleague had to stop driving as he tended to pass out from coughing-fits due to adult whooping cough. So there is that.

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to BenWilson,

    Yup, 0.08 is more impaired than stone cold sober, that’s for sure. Not sure entirely what you mean by “able to accurately assess risk”. When I’m at 0.08, I’m pretty much the same level of drunk as any other time I’m on 0.08, so knowing that I’m on 0.08 is a pretty accurate assessment of how impaired I am.

    Are you actually as obtuse as you are making out?
    1) Do you know, from repeated testing, what 0.08 feels like to you? In all circumstances? Could you accurately repeat that testing in a social situation and know when you'd had enough to put you at 0.08, accounting for the delayed effects? And even if you do, pretty much nobody else does. I've got no idea what it feels like when I'm at 0.08.

    2) The evidence the medical community has been producing to try and convince the current bunch of numpties that 0.08 is too high includes that between 0.05 and 0.08 most people stop being able to make a wise decision about being capable of driving. At 0.05 it's still possible for most, but by 0.08 it's incredibly difficult or impossible for most. I don't much care what you think is safe for you, I care what's safe for the majority. The evidence is also very, very firmly not in your favour.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3898 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Russell Brown,

    under 80 but over 50

    Over 30, actually.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3898 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    Do you know, from repeated testing, what 0.08 feels like to you?

    No, hence my suggestion to use objective measures.

    between 0.05 and 0.08 most people stop being able to make a wise decision about being capable of driving

    If they base it on "how drunk they feel", something I've been suggesting not to do all along, then I have never disagreed with that. In fact, I don't think most people would be accurately able to pick 0.05 either, if they had no idea how much they had drunk, perhaps because someone else was mixing drinks for them. Or sharing a cup, or something.

    I actually said all of this immediately under the piece you've snipped and quoted, so I have to counter:

    Are you actually as obtuse as you are making out?

    with "Do you actually read what people you are arguing with have written?"

    Perhaps you're suggesting people can't count or do maths when they're on 0.08. That's bollocks. Which isn't to say that people are safe at 0.08, nor have I ever said that they are. I just dispute that they have no way of knowing their level of intoxication. For starters, they could use a pocket BAC tester, which gives them a digital readout. These things cost $10 and are the size of car remote.

    Or they could follow the guideline I gave right from the start of sticking to the drinking pattern that keeps them roughly on 0.05, on which level they will remain safer to drive than 0.08, much safer from getting busted for DIC.

    If you make the legal limit 0.05, then this guideline will be screwed, of course.

    The evidence is also very, very firmly not in your favour.

    Please do give some to show that lower BAC limits means safer roads. I'm curious how the outlier of Russia is accounted for. Ignored, perhaps?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8313 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    At 0.05 it’s still possible for most, but by 0.08 it’s incredibly difficult or impossible for most. I don’t much care what you think is safe for you, I care what’s safe for the majority. The evidence is also very, very firmly not in your favour.

    I'm really not clear on what your point is with respect to your criticism of Ben. Why is having some objective measure of alcohol intake such a terrible thing?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18693 posts Report Reply

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