Saturday, 10 January 2009

The cold light of day

This story about Zara Phillips’ boyfriend Mike Tindall being banned for drink-driving should give a salutary lesson about the dangers of the “morning after”. Alcohol is only metabolised by the body at a rate of about one unit an hour, so if you’ve had a skinful, you may well not be under the limit again for twenty hours or more. All the claims about him having an unusually low rate of alcohol absorption seem like special pleading – surely if you’ve consumed four beers (which I doubt were ordinary bitter strength), seven glasses of champagne and a vodka and Red Bull, you must expect to be at least nudging the limit the following day. And surely someone such as Mike Tindall could have afforded one of the personal breathalysers that are now available for around £50, especially given the fact that he had been banned in the past.

But this is something on which the official government propaganda keeps very quiet. “Don’t drink anything at all immediately before driving” is a clear message, even if it is dishonest in terms of real risk. But, if you have had a few drinks, how are you supposed to know when you are OK to drive again? Even saying “if you have had anything to drink, don’t drive again for twenty-four hours” wouldn’t cover everyone, and would represent ludicrous over-caution for most people. The only way to do this is to teach people unit-counting – how much alcohol each drink contains, and how quickly it is metabolised by the body. But they refuse to do this, on the grounds that it would allegedly encourage people to “drink up to the limit”. This head-in-the-sand attitude is costing lives, and causing responsible people to lose their licences. Why shouldn’t the annual drink-drive publicity campaign one year focus on the morning-after risk, as I asked here ten years ago? I have come across a number of people who ostentatiously claimed never to even have a half of mild before getting behind the wheel, but whose overall alcohol consumption must surely have meant they were often well over the limit on the morning after. They may have believed they were being ultra-responsible, but they weren’t.

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