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The New Drink Driving Offence?

February 7, 2017 by in category Drink Driving, News with 0 and 0
Home > News > Drink Driving > The New Drink Driving Offence?
coffee and driving

Excess Caffeine can lead to a…. Criminal Conviction?

If you are one of the many people who wake up and cannot start their day without a coffee you might want to think again before you stop for that second cup, or that energy drink for a quick jolt of alertness on a long drive home. The effects of caffeine on your body, and at what point it turns from a useful tool, to a dangerous inhibitor is something that all drivers should be aware of. As a man in the U.S is currently realizing, drinking caffeine, or for that matter even a coffee, can lead to motoring charges, dangerous driving, and even drink driving.

Caffeine and Driving Alertness

Most things are good in moderation, but at what point does too much of a good thing lead to an adverse effect? While moderate caffeine intake has been studied, and proven to have a beneficial effect in raising alertness for drivers and keeping them awake, what happens when we begin to cross that threshold of “moderate” caffeine consumption? In 2009 the National Safety Commission in America did a study on energy drinks and driving that explained the adverse effects of caffeine on the body that can lead to an intoxicating state. “Caffeine Intoxication” can be induced by consuming more than 250mg (or on average roughly 2 ½ 8oz cups of coffee). The effects of caffeine intoxication include:

restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, flushing of the face, increased urination, gastrointestinal disturbance, muscle twitching, a rambling flow of thought and speech, irritability, irregular or rapid heartbeat, and psychomotor agitation

When we pair the effects of caffeine intoxication with driving, it is apparently obvious the ramifications that could follow. The effects of caffeine are different for everyone, and like with any drug, habitual users will have a higher threshold for the amount they can intake before adverse effects (around 400mg). For those who don’t consume caffeine regularly, drinking those 3 energy drinks while on a road trip late at night could lead to tiredness and lapses in judgement that may result in danger for yourself, and others around you.

The biggest problems do occur when high doses of caffeine are used as a substitution for sleep. Using coffee or an energy drink to keep you awake as you finish that last bit of work may sound familiar? But the dangers are immensely higher when you use caffeine to stay awake at the wheel. Studies show that approximately 1 hour after ingesting a highly caffeinated or sugared drink, a person who is sleep deprived can experience lapses in concentration and lower reaction times. A sleep deprived person generally won’t be able to fight the onset of fatigue that rushes over them when the effects of the caffeinated drink wear off, and can quickly find themselves falling asleep.

Energy Drink Driving

Energy Drinks have become increasingly popular over the last decade or so for many teens and young adults. Being primarily used as a study aid or sleep substitute, energy drinks have slowly switched as mainly just a stimulate for athleticism and prolonging alertness to a mixer for alcoholic beverages. In a study by the Research Society of Alcoholism, the use of energy drinks as well as mixing energy drinks with alcohol contributed directly to drink driving frequency. In their findings, more frequent energy drink consumption lead to two pathways which increased the likelihood of drink driving:

  1. mixing energy drinks with alcohol lead to heavier alcohol consumption and thus a greater risk of drink driving.
  2. consuming energy drinks without alcohol contributed additional risk for drunk driving, regardless of alcohol drinking patterns.

In correlation with these findings, in a statistical release by the Department for Transport it was found that:

  • Estimates for 2015 show that between 180-250 people were killed in accidents in Great Britain where at least one driver was over the drink limit
  • An estimate of 1380 people were killed or seriously injured when at least one driver was over the limit. Which represents a statistically significant increase from 1310 in 2014
  • The total number of collisions or accidents where at least one driver was over the alcohol limit rose by 2 percent to 5740 in 2015

Whether the increase of mixing alcohol with energy drinks becoming more common has led to an increase in drink driving and ultimately these statistics is unknown, but it is surely something to keep in mind.

Perhaps the most alarming thing about energy drinks and driving is the potential effect of alcohol content in the energy drinks on breath alcohol tests. A scientific study published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology in 2009 suggested energy drinks can even fool breath testing equipment and elevate alcohol readings. The article states that “a variety of energy drinks were tested by gas chromatography and some 88.9% (24 of 27) were found to contain low concentrations of ethanol (5–230 mg/dL). Drinks were then consumed (24.6–32oz) by volunteers to determine the extent of reaction that could be achieved on a portable breath-testing instrument. Eleven of 27 (40.7%) beverages gave positive results on a portable breath testing instrument (0.006–0.015 g/210 L) when samples were taken within 1 min of the end of drinking. All tests taken by portable breath test, DataMaster, and Intox EC/IR II at least 15 min after the end of drinking resulted in alcohol-free readings (0.000g/210 L)”. This, combined with low level readings, could cause a detection in breathalysers which leads to serious implications for drivers.

While consuming caffeine may increase alertness, and reduce reaction time after drinking, any impairment from alcohol in drivers will not be counteracted by a coffee or an energy drink. Though that surge of energy may make you feel sober, that doesn’t mean you are.

Penalties and Ramifications

Drink driving carries serious and far reaching penalties and consequences, starting with a minimum 12 month ban and unlimited fine ranging to a maximum unlimited ban and 6 month spell in prison.

However, increased weariness behind the wheel could also lead to a prosecution for careless driving or dangerous driving. If it is found that your driving has fallen below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver you will be charged with careless driving, which holds a penalty of a fine up to £2500, a discretionary disqualification or between 3-9 penalty points.

Dangerous Driving is a much more serious offence carrying with it a substantial risk of imprisonment and automatic disqualification from driving with a retest to follow. To be found guilty of Dangerous Driving, the Prosecution must prove that the offender’s driving fell far below the standard of a competent and careful driver and driving that would be obviously dangerous to a competent and careful driver.

Though it is true that caffeine and energy drinks are good for a “quick fix”, they are no substitution for regular breaks at the wheel. They come as a one-off hit of energy, and repeating that hit in a couple of hours’ time will not have the same initial surge of energy. When in doubt of your ability to stay alert at the wheel, we urge motorists to think again before reaching for that can of Red Bull. Advertisers may like you to think that drinking their caffeine laden potion “will give you wings” but we want to help you avoid those wings being accompanied by handcuffs!

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