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How long after drinking is it safe to drive?

The amount of time you have to wait to drive after drinking depends on a number of factors. Waiting the standard “one hour per drink,” may not be enough to sober up, especially after consuming a lot of alcohol. No two drivers are the same when it comes to drinking and sobering up. If you are unsure if you are sober enough to drive, chances are you are not there yet.

A DUI arrest is a very expensive way to find out that you were not yet sober before driving home. Taking a taxi, Lyft or Uber, or crashing with a friend is generally a much safer and cheaper way to make sure you have sobered up before getting behind the wheel.

If you were charged with a DUI in Berkeley or anywhere in Alameda or Contra Costa County, contact the experienced East Bay DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelickto understand your rights and challenge the criminal charges against you.

Time to Metabolize Alcohol

There is no easy way to say how long after drinking it takes before it is safe to drive. This is because there are a number of factors that determine how long it takes for alcohol to be absorbed into the body. Factors that affect alcohol's impact and absorption include:

  • Weight,
  • Fitness level,
  • Sex,
  • Food consumption,
  • Percentage of alcohol,
  • Rate of drinking,
  • Number of drinks,
  • Hydration,
  • Medical issues, and
  • Medication.

Your Blood Alcohol Level is Not the Same as How You Feel

There is a difference between your blood-alcohol level and whether or not you feel okay to drive. For example, if you down a number of shots you may feel fine until the alcohol gets absorbed by the body. However, if you get behind the wheel, the alcohol will begin to affect your body and you may become impaired even if you felt sober when you started the car.

Similarly, you may feel fine to drive after sobering up but if your BAC is over the legal limit (0.08% or higher) then you can be charged with a DUI per se even if you did not break any traffic laws and felt fine.

You may feel sobered and feel like it is okay to drive. However, it is still possible to get arrested for a DUI with a BAC under the limit if the police have reason to believe you were impaired.

Counting Drinks and Counting Hours

Generally, it takes about an hour for the body to metabolize one alcoholic beverage based on:

  • 12 oz beer (5% alcohol),
  • 5 oz glass of wine (12% alcohol),
  • 1.5 oz shot of 80-proof liquor (40% alcohol).

However, not all drink servings follow these serving sizes or percentages. A higher alcohol beer like an imperial or IPA can have 7% to 10% or even higher alcohol by volume. A pint will be 16 ounces or an imperial pint will be 20 ounces of beer. Wine can be up to 14% or higher percent alcohol and it can be difficult to count glasses when a wine glass is regularly topped off from a shared bottle.

Testing Your Own BAC With a Handheld Breathalyzer

Portable breath testers or pocket breathalyzers can be purchased for personal use. These devices work similarly to the Portable Alcohol Screening (PAS) devices used by the police to conduct roadside breath tests. These tests can give you an idea of your BAC but should not be relied upon if you're unsure whether you are sober enough to drive.

Even the larger and supposedly more accurate breath testing machines can have problems that give an inaccurate measure of the individual's actual BAC. Improper calibration, operator error, or cross-contamination can compromise the breath tests. Certain foods, gums, medicines, or even medical conditions can also result in inaccurate BAC results.

Police Chemical Testing Errors

Just like a pocket breathalyzer, the police breath and blood tests can have problems that result in inaccurate BAC readings. A more expensive testing device does not mean that the tests are 100% accurate. Operator error, not calibrating the machine, contamination, or test sample mix-ups can also cause a driver to be unfairly charged with a DUI in California.

East Bay DUI defense attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of DUI experience and understands how to challenge DUI charges in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. If you have any questions about your DUI and DUI defenses, contact East Bay criminal defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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