Myths and Facts About Drinking and Driving

Many misconceptions persist despite all the information that has been going around for years on the subject of drinking and impaired driving.

“I know a trick to decrease my blood alcohol concentration.”

There are no tricks to speed up elimination of alcohol – only time works. Taking a cold shower, drinking strong coffee, going for a run or dancing will not lessen the effects of alcohol. Your liver eliminates almost everything.

To sober up, you have to wait for your liver to do its work. Beware of energy drinks – they mask the drowsiness brought on by alcohol, but your abilities remain impaired. A police officer can prove it!

Remember that the concentration of alcohol in your blood continues to increase and reaches its maximum level one hour after the last drink.

“I can drive a car after drinking, as long as I don't use public roads.”

The Criminal Code applies to all motor vehicles, regardless of where they are being operated. If your ability to drive is are impaired and you are operating a car, a snowmobile, an ATV, a tractor or any other motor vehicle, you could be arrested.

“I had a hearty meal after a few drinks.”

If you drink on an empty stomach, the alcohol passes directly into the intestine and from there into the bloodstream and brain. There are no barriers to the absorption of alcohol, which literally goes straight to your head. Eating after drinking alcohol does not change anything – it's too late since the alcohol is already in your bloodstream. Eating a late-night poutine has no effect on your blood alcohol concentration!

“I only drank cocktails.”

Cocktails aren't always as light as they might seem. Two ounces of alcohol is still two ounces of alcohol, whether it is mixed with fruit juice or not. Beware of cocktails mixed without a jigger.

“As long as I'm below 0.08, there is no risk.”

Don't depend on your blood alcohol concentration to know if you are impaired, since many other factors can come into play, such as fatigue, drugs, medication, stress or illness.

Your ability to drive could be impaired even if your blood alcohol concentration is low, making it a criminal offence. This means that you could be arrested even with a blood alcohol concentration below 0.08.

Police officers do not always use the breathalyzer test. Instead, they could assess your ability to drive by making you perform physical coordination tests. A police officer may have sufficient grounds to put you under arrest simply by observing your behaviour.

“I Have Calculated My Blood Alcohol Concentration and It Is Below 0.08.”

Blood alcohol concentration calculators (apps or websites), wall-mounted breathalyzer tests (often located near the exits or the bathrooms in bars), personal breathalyzers or the small low-cost single-use tubes can measure your blood alcohol concentration (provided they are in good condition, well calibrated and properly used), but they cannot measure your ability to drive. The Criminal Code does not only penalize driving with a blood alcohol concentration equal to or greater than 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, but also penalizes driving while impaired, regardless of the amount of alcohol in the body. Remember that your blood alcohol concentration keeps increasing after you have taken your last drink and it can reach its maximum level up to one hour afterwards. 

In addition, alcohol intolerance, fatigue, stress or taking other substances (medication or drugs) do not increase your blood alcohol concentration, but can amplify the effects of alcohol. You are at a much greater risk of having an accident or being arrested for impaired driving. Simply wondering what your blood alcohol concentration is may be a sign that you should not drive. The SAAQ discourages the use of tools to calculate your blood alcohol concentration, because they do not provide information that is accurate enough to adequately prevent impaired driving.

Impaired driving starts before 0.08!

“I haven't had a drink in an hour!”

We often hear that not having any alcohol for an hour prior to driving is a good habit. However, this may only be true if you have limited consumption to a minimum. If you have had too much to drink, waiting an hour will not change your condition.

Your body needs several hours to completely eliminate a few drinks. For example, to eliminate 70 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, your body needs nearly 5 hours.

“Men have a better tolerance for alcohol than women.”

For the same amount of alcohol consumed and at the same weight, women usually have a slightly higher blood alcohol concentration. However, a person's sex has a fairly negligible effect compared to other factors that come into play, such as weight, rate of alcohol absorption by the stomach, fatigue or medication.

“I've been drinking or smoking pot, but I'm not going far.”

A large number of accidents occur near the home. When a route is familiar, drivers tend to pay less attention and switch to “auto-pilot,” which means that their vigilance is decreased in various driving situations (traffic lights, intersections, changing direction, etc.). Drivers will therefore need a lot more time to react to an unexpected situation, especially if they are under the effects of alcohol or drugs.

“It's the fault of repeat offenders!”

It's easy to shift the blame to someone else and feel less guilty by comparing yourself to a repeat offender with a blood alcohol concentration two or three times the legal limit. Regardless, the majority of offences and accidents linked to impaired driving are committed by “ordinary” people, first-time offenders who thought that being stopped for impaired driving could not happen to them.

“Drinking and driving is cool.”

Nothing can justify impaired driving. It is no longer socially acceptable or cool to drive after a few drinks. Today, 98% of the population denounces this type of behaviour – now that's cool!

“I can always take back roads to avoid the police.”

Drivers who are impaired tend to take back roads to avoid running into the police, but the risk of having an accident is the same. Police officers are not naive, they know about this technique and increase their surveillance in less busy areas.

Last update: July 21, 2021