When will you be safe to drive after a Big Night Out?
That’s the question being asked in the latest phase of a publicity campaign aimed at helping people avoid a drink drive conviction – or worse still having a crash and causing casualties - the morning after a heavy night’s drinking.
The ‘Morning After’ drink drive website, which has been running for several years, gives useful information about how long it takes for alcohol to pass through the body – around one hour per unit - which is much longer than most people think.
The latest phase of Morning After is a campaign called ‘Big Night Out’ which targets predominantly young people who do the right thing on the night by not driving – but then get behind the wheel the following morning without considering that they are very probably still way over the drink drive limit.
‘Big Night Out’ will run in March/April 2013 and is being made available for road safety teams across the UK to buy into, with prices starting at £350 plus VAT.
David Frost, from the Morning After campaign, said: “As an example, using the ‘one hour per unit’ equation, if you drink three large (250ml) glasses of wine (15% alcohol) you should avoid driving for around 13 hours after you stop. So if you stop drinking at midnight, that’s 1pm the following day before you should get behind the wheel. A sobering thought.
“On a Big Night Out it’s easy to completely lose track of the amount you’re drinking - and those who go on to drink in a club until the early hours are potentially taking on board huge volumes of alcohol that certainly won’t clear from the body by the following morning.
“Through this latest phase of the campaign we’re trying to raise awareness of this issue and encourage young people to make arrangements so that they don’t have to drive the day after heavy drinking, as well as on the night itself.
“The message is simple – if you’re having a Big Night Out, leave the car at home the Morning After too.”
Big Night Out comprises a range of traditional collateral including posters, beer mats, and a flyer. Artwork can also be provided in several other formats including bus backs and 48-sheet posters.
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Working with hundreds of 16-25 year olds on drink drive awareness campaigns I often get admissions of 30+ units as well so it's no exaggeration.
There is a huge difference between being over the legal limit and just being unsafe to drive. The main issue I have when talking to young people is that they don't realise just how unsafe alcohol makes them - any amount will affect your driving. The NHS 'recommended' healthy limits of 2 or 3 units a day is also confusing as young people think it is ok to drive off that amount - it probably isn't!
We've run a campaign for the last 18 months featuring a young lad who drove the morning after a night out not realising he was twice the drink drive limit. Matt Alston died instantly when he crashed only a couple of miles from his home. It is the most thought provoking initiative I have ever run http://www.wastedlives.co.uk/more_info.asp?current_id=119
Thanks for your comments Kim.
It's now generally accepted that it takes around one hour for each unit of alcohol to pass through the body – though there are a number of factors that can affect this, and this time will vary from person to person.
There is, however, some debate about whether one should start calculating from the moment you start drinking, or when you finish.
As this is a road safety campaign, we’re naturally keen to err on the side of caution, which is why our advice is to begin the calculation from the moment you stop drinking.
We also believe the best and safest advice to not to drive until your body is free from alcohol, which is why we have not made any allowance in our calculations for the legal limit – our calculations are based on the body becoming clear of alcohol.
The NHS states 750mm of wine at 15% is equal to 11.3 units, that equates to 11hr and 20 min, so please tell me who is right. Also given a women can drive whilst drinking 2 units that relates to 9hr 20 min, well short of 13 hours as stated above! Can we not have one simple message please.
Let's not forget the time it takes the body to recover after it has cleared the alcohol or the fact that people may not have slept as well due to the alcohol so fatigue will be a factor. I'd say calculating when drinking has stopped would be the minimum allowance and probably not driving at all the day after would be sensible when people drink to such excesses.
Dr James Whalen DSA ADI (car), Wolverhampton
Thanks for your comments on this. It's certainly agreed that BMA research points out that the body takes an hour to process one unit of alcohol. Our view when it comes to driving is that it's 'better to be safe than sorry', which is why we suggest calculating from when you stop drinking.
David Frost, Stennik
Andy, its nice to hear that someone else has the same opinion as us in York regarding the liver starting to process alcohol. We have gone as far as checking with the medical profession as we feel that people need the facts not myth or exaggeration, when it comes to alcohol and drinking.
Trish & Kathryn, York
I don’t disagree with Andy’s comments, the body does start to eliminate alcohol virtually from the moment is passes your lips. However, the “topping up process” makes this much harder for the liver to deal with. So I would suggest as a safer guide you work out the amount of alcohol in the system from the time you stop topping up.
Once absorbed by the bloodstream, the alcohol leaves the body in three ways:
• The kidney eliminates 5% of alcohol in the urine.
• The lungs exhale 5% of alcohol, which can be detected by breathalyzer devices.
• The liver chemically breaks down the remaining alcohol into acetic acid.
As a rule of thumb, an average person can eliminate 0.5 oz (15 ml) of alcohol per hour. So, it would take approximately one hour to eliminate the alcohol from a 12 oz (355 ml) can of beer.
The BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) increases when the body absorbs alcohol faster than it can eliminate it. So, because the body can only eliminate about one dose of alcohol per hour, drinking several drinks in an hour will increase your BAC much more than having one drink over a period of an hour or more.
A very worthwhile campaign. However two points may be worth noting.
Firstly I understood that the body starts processing the alcohol after the first hour when it is starting to be absorbed so the one hour per unit plus an hour works from when the alcohol is consumed not from the finish time.
Secondly some young people admit to drinking sufficient units to put them over the limit the morning after the day after drinking. I wasn't convinced of this until we carried out voluntary breath testing at a local college and one young lady just passed the test at 9.30am on a Monday after drinking on Saturday night to 3am Sunday. With her friends we calculated her intake to have been over 35 units. She had a driving lesson on the way to college an hour before and may have failed the test at the start of this lesson.
When carrying out such activities with students it is clear that, even allowing for a bit of exaggeration, this is not uncommon.