Bill 26 Passes: Is the 0.05 BAC limit fair? The Breathalyzer Challenge 2

Posted by: Shelton Kwan onDecember 7th, 2011

With today’s passing of Bill 26, Albertans are soon to face much tougher penalties in regards to impaired driving, and blowing between the 0.05 BAC warn limit, and the 0.08 BAC criminal DUI limit. Under the new law, if a person is caught driving with a BAC level from 0.05 to 0.08, their license would be suspended for 3 days, and their car could also be seized for the same period. That’s an increase from the previous 24-hour suspension for blowing between the 2 levels.

There has been a lot of debate over how strict this limit is, and how many drinks will actually tip you over the limit. In our first unscientific breathalyzer challenge, we found that most of us couldn’t even register a 0.05 while drinking at a bar, even though all of us did not feel safe to drive. We concluded at that time that 0.08 is way too high of a limit, and applaude the tougher 0.05 rules that were being considered.

There were a lot of criticism over our testing methods, in that we were drinking at an establishment where there was no control over how much alcohol we really had (one subject drank over 20 drinks without blowing over 0.05), and the accuracy of the breathalyzer was thrown into question. We decided to do a proper breathalyzer challenge with more controlled variables to really find out if Bill 26 is fair.

To start off, we had our breathalyzer re-calibrated from the vendor to ensure accurate results. We brought the finest Vodka we can get our hands on, brought 8 willing participants, and prepared for our test. The plan was to drink 1.5 shots every 15 minutes, wait 10 minutes, then blow. Each subject was to let the tester know when they felt they were not safe to drive so we have an indication of their BAC levels at the time. I also collected each person’s weight, so I could create an Alcohol Tolerant Index (ATI) in BAC/100lbs at the 2nd test point to show tolerance levels of different individuals, vs their drinking habits. The results are arranged from the lowest ATI to the highest ATI.

Subject #1 (100lbs, 17.24 ATI) registered a 0.016 on the first test, and a 0.058 on the second test, and could not finish their 3rd drink on time. Threw up shortly after the 3rd drink, then drank casually, blowing subsequent numbers of 0.074, 0.065 (walking problems at this point), and finally, 0.103. The subject indicated inability to drive prior to the 0.058 BAC.

Subject #2 (120lbs, ATI 20.69) registered a 0.020 on the first test, and without finishing the 2nd drink, blew a 0.058. Stopped drinking completely and could not remember events past this point. Subsequently blew 0.050, 0.032 before passing out. Subject indicated inability to drive shorly after the 0.020 level, but prior to the 0.058 BAC.

Subject #3 (135lbs, ATI 30.68) registered a 0.018 on the first test, 0.044 on the 2nd test, 0.063 on the 3rd test before slowing down. Drank at a casual pace, then subsequently blew 0.045, 0.051, 0.039 and finally 0.048. Indicated inability to drive at 0.044 BAC.

Subject #4 (170lbs, ATI 60.71) registered the following levels through the test. 0.019, 0.028, 0.045, 0.055, 0.053 and finally 0.055. Subject indicated inability to drive prior to the 0.055 BAC.

Subject #5 (115lbs, ATI 67.65) registered the following levels through the test. 0.000, 0.017, 0.035, 0.066, 0.060, 0.063 before stopping drinking and ended the test. The final measurement was 0.042. Subject indicated inability to drive prior to the 0.066 result.

Subject #6 (200lbs, ATI 74.07) registered the following levels through the test. 0.018, 0.027, 0.045, 0.047, 0.049, 0.042, and finally 0.048. Subject indicated inability to drive prior to the 0.049 BAC.

Subject #7 (200lbs, ATI 117.65) registered the following levels through the test. 0.010, 0.017, 0.038, 0.038, 0.043 before slowing down on drinking and ending the test. Subsequently blew a 0.036 and 0.048. Subject indicated inability to drive at 0.043 BAC.

Subject #8 (200lbs, ATI 153.85) registered the following levels through the test. 0.000, 0.013, 0.031, 0.032 before complaining about eyes being tired. Continued through the test and blew 0.043, 0.034, and finally 0.038. Subject indicated inability to drive prior to the 0.043 BAC.

It is interesting to note that the ATI tolerance levels did not correlate to body weight at all. They did, however, correlate to how often each subject drinks, which shows that regular alcohol consumption does in fact change how the body processes alcohol and change their tolerance. We had Subject #2 at 120lbs who never drinks, and Subject #5 at 115lbs show completely different behaviour and BAC levels throughout the test.

Regardless of the ATI levels, it is very obvious that driving at 0.050 BAC is obviously unsafe even if you’re a regular drinker. All of the subjects reported being very “tipsy” prior to this stage, and would not get behind the wheel of a car. No driver should get behind the wheel at this level, so Bill 26 and the new 0.050 rules are more than fair. Anyone over that level, in my opinion, is endangering the lives of others on the road.

In our next breathalyzer challenge series, the same subjects will be going out for dinner, and drinking 2 glasses of wine over the course of the meal, and measuring their BAC levels prior to leaving. This is the biggest complaint from the public over Bill 26′s 0.05 rules, so we’ll uncover what BAC levels look like in such a scenario.

Disclaimer – This test in no way condones or encourages drinking and driving. It is merely a test to measure BAC levels in a drinking situation for evaluation purposes only. Please, do not drink and drive.

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