Many people ask themselves, “How long after drinking can you drive?” Well, consider this: alcohol and automobiles do not mix, as evidenced by the many auto accidents associated with DUI. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 30 people in the U.S. die in drunk-driving accidents each day. That’s over 10,000 avoidable deaths each year.
Maybe it happens because people think they’re perfectly fine having just one drink and driving. (After all, they drank it hours ago.) Or perhaps they blow into a device and see they’re below the legal limit, so they assume they’re safe to get behind the wheel.
The truth is, impairment can be tricky to judge, even if you’re the type who can hold your alcohol, and you may not be very clear on how soon after drinking you can drive.
Whether you’ve had one drink or five, whether you drank 30 minutes ago or 3 hours ago, you need to know when (or if) it’s safe to get on the road. If you plan to imbibe, your safest bet is always to arrange for a designated driver.
However, it’s also essential to understand what happens when you drink, what the law says about drinking and driving, and what could happen if you’re wrong about your ability to control a motor vehicle. Educating yourself will help you understand if you’re fit to drive or better off calling an Uber.
Alcohol by the Numbers
The first thing you should know is that not all alcohol is created equal and what you drink can have just as big of an impact on impairment and device readings as the volume you consume. In addition, there are significant disparities in alcohol levels between different types of beverages and from one brand to the next. Therefore, it is hard to estimate how long after drinking you should wait to drive.
How much alcohol does one alcoholic beverage have? According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a National Institutes of Health (NIH) branch, the standard in the U.S. for a single alcoholic beverage is about 14 grams of pure alcohol. What does this equate to, in practical terms?
Twelve fluid ounces generally have about 5% alcohol by volume (ABV). Some beers, like light beer, contain slightly less alcohol (around 4.2%), but that’s still about 85% of the alcohol in a regular beer. Then there are beverages like craft beers and malt liquor that could contain significantly more alcohol, so you need to know what you’re drinking.
A five-ounce glass of table wine is usually about 12% ABV. However, this can vary, as with beer.
Hard liquor has the most alcohol of any beverage, hands down. A single, 1.5-ounce shot of spirits like vodka, whiskey, gin, rum, or tequila typically contains about 40% ABV, although it could be a lot more. Bacardi 151 rum, for example, is 75.5% ABV.
When it comes to how many hours you have to wait before an ignition interlock device will unlock your car, what you drink can be just as important as how much you consume.
The Legal Limit in Utah
The federal government and nearly every state in the U.S. observe a legal limit of 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which refers to the alcohol percentage in your bloodstream. For example, a 0.10% BAC would signify one part alcohol for every 1,000 parts of blood.
Utah, however, took a more rigid stance on BAC when it became the first and only state to set a legal limit of 0.05% BAC in 2018, which means if you’re pulled over by law enforcement, and a breathalyzer device shows a reading of 0.05% BAC or higher, you can be charged with a DUI offense regardless of how much you drank or how many hours ago.
In some cases, you could even face penalties for lower BAC. For example, Utah is one of many states with a zero-tolerance policy (the not-a-drop law) for underage drinking, so if drivers under the age of 21 test over 0.0% on a breathalyzer device, they may be charged with a DUI.
While you might wonder how long it will take for a breathalyzer to register 0.00 after drinking, the more important thing you should know is what different device results indicate. Here’s a basic breakdown of what’s going on when you see specific readings on your ignition interlock device:
- 0.02% – divided attention, some visual decline, some loss of judgment
- 0.05% – impaired judgment, reduced coordination, alertness, and response time
- 0.08% – impaired perception and concentration, poor coordination, impaired judgment, reasoning, and self-control
It gets worse as the number gets higher, but you can see, even at 0.02% BAC, there could be enough effect to impair your ability to drive safely.
How Long Will It Take for Breathalyzer to Register 0.00 After Drinking?
Whether you have an ignition interlock device on your car, use an external device to check your breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) to determine how long you should wait to drive after drinking, or you’re worried about getting pulled over and blowing into a breathalyzer, the main thing you probably want to know is, “How long will it take for breathalyzer to register 0.00 after drinking?”
Unfortunately, this is not very easy to calculate for several reasons. Generally speaking, your body metabolizes alcohol at a rate of about 20 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) per hour. If you recall that the standard drink is about 14 mg of pure alcohol, you can surmise that you’ll metabolize one drink in under an hour.
But wait, there’s more to it. Several circumstances can affect your level of intoxication, including the following factors:
- Stomach contents
- Prescription or other drugs
- Your relative alcohol tolerance
In other words, you may continue to feel the effects of alcohol after you’ve metabolized it, which could impair your judgment and driving ability, even if a device reads within legal limits.
Why You Should Avoid Driving While Intoxicated
Drinking can impair your judgment, perception, balance, reflexes and reaction time, and more, even hours after you imbibe, which alone should be a warning that you’re not safe to get behind the wheel.
More importantly, alcohol affects everyone differently. For example, some people can pass an ignition interlock device test shortly after having a drink, while others may have to wait hours before they’re capable of driving. However, when you misjudge how long you should wait after drinking to drive, you risk harming yourself and others, not to mention suffering legal penalties.
If you’re convicted, your first DUI could result in up to 180 days in jail (with a minimum of two days in jail OR 48 hours of community service), as well as 12 months of probation, a minimum fine of $1,295.00, and mandatory DUI treatment. You’ll also have to install an ignition interlock device on your car if your BAC is 0.16% or higher. Naturally, the penalties increase for multiple offenses, so knowing how long after you drink can you drive is extremely important.
Sobering Up: The Myth of Coffee and Cold Showers
There’s an old joke that goes something like this:
Q: “What do you get when you give a drunkard coffee and a cold shower?”
A: “A cold, wet, wide-awake drunk.”
Once you’ve got alcohol in your bloodstream and you start to feel the effects (which takes about 10 minutes, by the way), you’re just going to have to ride it out. There’s no natural way to sober up more quickly at that point.
You’ve probably heard of all kinds of supposed remedies, from forcing yourself to vomit (it only helps with nausea, if you’re lucky), to eating greasy foods (they’ll only slow absorption if you eat them before you take a drink, and they won’t stop absorption).
There’s no way to purge alcohol from your bloodstream or make it run its course any faster. So if you’re wondering whether you’re too drunk to drive, don’t sit behind the wheel trying to calculate how long to drive after drinking.
Even if you’re good at math and coordinated enough to start punching numbers into the calculator on your mobile device, there are enough factors involved that you’re likely to get wrong. So just book an Uber or call a friend for a sober ride because nothing but whiling away the hours will sober you up.
How to Avoid Getting Drunk in the First Place
How long after you drink can you drive? There are ways to minimize the damage that alcohol does to your body. For starters, you can count how many beverages you drink or the ounces of alcohol consumed, keeping in mind that alcohol can affect your memory.
You can choose drinks with a lower ABV (beer versus liquor) or order a drink you can sip rather than shoot. In addition, you can eat before you drink to help your body absorb alcohol or drink water to lower your BAC. However, it won’t speed up how long it takes to metabolize alcohol, so even if you pass a device check, you still may be too impaired to drive.
Really, your best bet to avoid DUI is to skip driving when you drink.That said, if you’ve been charged with DUI in the state of Utah, you can fight it with qualified legal guidance and support from the experienced attorneys at Schatz Anderson & Associates. Contact us online or call us at 801-746-0447 today to request your free consultation and learn more.