Shock truth about drunk driving
IT took just two beers for Bryan Rufener, 32, to be over the legal alcohol limit - making it illegal for him to get behind the wheel of a car.
The self-confessed Joburg binge drinker thought it would take a lot more to put him over the legal limit.
He admitted that, in the past, he had driven after having had at least a dozen beers. ''This has been an eye opener for me. I am completely surprised by these results. I would never have thought that two beers would put me over the limit. ''
Rufener, who weighs 73kg and is 1.77m tall was among a group of nine volunteers who participated in a Sunday Times experiment to test how many drinks it took before it would be illegal for them to drive - as well as how people react differently to booze. The exercise was done under the expertise of a panel which included a paramedic, a trauma doctor and a breathalyser analyst and revealed that:
- There is no standard for how many drinks would place you over the limit;
- Beer is way more dangerous than, for example, whisky;
- One needs at least one hour to allow each glass/tot/beer to wear off; and,
- One can beat the breathalyser, but fail a blood test.
While breathalysers are only used as a precursor to indicate if blood tests are necessary, as they are inadmissiblein court, some of the volunteers also had blood tests done to verify the initial findings. The legal limit of 0.05g cannot be equated into a number of drinks as it varies from person to person.
Volunteers were split into three groups of three and each was tested on either a few rounds of beer, whisky or red wine. Howard Dembovsky, national chairman of the Justice Project SA, an NGO which also campaigns against drunken driving, said the purpose was to show how alcohol affected each person differently.
''All participants in the test were under exactly the same misconception that a higher percentage of alcohol per volume would mean that the particular alcohol would get you more intoxicated," he said.
This means that one bottle of beer contains more alcohol than a single tot of whisky. "Simply put, it means that beer is, in fact, more intoxicating than the hard stuff because of the amount one consumes," Dembovsky said.
Rufener, who had not eaten prior to drinking two beers, was already over the limit at 0.052g. If he had gotten behind the wheel he would have faced arrest for drunk driving. Following a meal and three more beers, his alcohol level was 0.067g.
Darryl Ireland, 25, who weighs 81kg, drank five neat, single tots of whisky. He was over the legal limit after only three at 0.053g. By the time Ireland, from Douglasdale, north of Joburg, finished his fifth drink, the production manager said he felt "fine, but a little drunk".
His speech was slurred and his final reading was 0.091g. He too was shocked that it took only three shots for him to be over the legal limit. He had driven after as many drinks before.
Dembovsky said: ''This exercise highlighted an urgent need to educate the public on alcohol and driving ... most importantly there is no standard on how many drinks you can have before you are over the limit."
Kurt Loggenberg, 35, from Florida Park, west of Joburg, was tested on Amstel beer. At 1.8m tall and weighing 82kg, Loggenberg polished a six-pack and remained within the limit.
After two beers he measured a mere 0.028g and, after all six, 0.039g. He volunteered to have his blood alcohol level tested and it showed that, although the breathalyser hadn't shown him to be over the limit, his blood measured 0.051g.
Participants said they volunteered because they had never been breathalysed before and wanted to know how much booze would place them over the limit. Jason Smith [not his real name] said he wanted to replicate his results after he was arrested on a suspicion of drunk driving recently.
The 38-year-old, who weighs 53kg, said he had attended a charity function at a pub in Joburg, where he drank three Windhoek Draughts in two hours. He was later stopped by Johannesburg Metro Police and breathalysed. "According to that reading I was over the limit. I was arrested, taken for a blood alcohol test and kept in the police cells overnight."
He opted to drink the same amount in the same space of time during the exercise - and it also placed him over the limit.
"I really didn't think I was over the limit," he said, adding that, until now, he didn't know that his limit was two beers.
Panelist Dr Robyn Holgate, ER24's chief medical doctor, said: ''How your body responds to alcohol depends on how much alcohol you put in your system and your size, gender and drinking experience."
She said it took the body about an hour to process one drink. "So, if you have four drinks, it will take at least four hours before the effects wear off. ''
She said it was important for people to understand that while they might not feel drunk after a couple of drinks, legally they may be over the limit and should not drive. Holgate said alcohol impaired people's ability to drive in that it slowed down their response time, alertness and concentration level.
David Tembe, head of the National Traffic Police unit, who observed the experiment, told participants one of the biggest threats in arresting drunk drivers was police corruption.
Ashref Ismail spokesman for the Road Traffic Management Corporation, said over 1000 people were killed in road accidents during last year's festive season. ''At least 68% of road deaths are alcohol related. On average, about 1800 drunk drivers are arrested every month."
- Volunteers were driven home courtesy of the Sunday Times