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Most drivers understand that drinking and driving can be serious, especially if you are in an accident. Fewer understand exactly what the penalties are or how they can be enforced, though, and that puts them at risk when they are out driving and they choose to have a drink or two. If you don’t understand how alcohol works thoroughly and what the law actually requires from you, then it is simply too easy to wind up on the wrong side of it without even knowing. When that happens and you get caught, the consequences can be quite severe, so let’s take a look at some facts and some myths to help you understand the law and the science around drinking and driving.

How Much Can I Drink?

There’s no perfect formula for figuring out how much you can safely drink while still driving. Some people use rough calculations based on body weight and other factors, but they are only estimates, and due to metabolic differences between individuals, they are not very accurate. You might wind up being completely OK with your estimate for a while and then completely wrong, just because of a difference in your own health status or your body’s metabolism. The best solution for most people is to avoid drinking, or to stick to a hard limit of one if you are going to have a drink and you have plenty of time before you drive. Another option that many curious drivers have adopted lately is to purchase and use breath analyzers on their own, to better avoid accidentally operating a vehicle under the influence.

How Does Alcohol Cause Impairment?

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. That means that as you consume more and more of it, signals from your extremities and organs take longer to communicate with the brain. It also means that brain tends to take longer making decisions, and to make them less accurately. When that happens, your ability to respond to hazards in real time diminishes, and with it, your coordination. If it becomes too impaired, it can be dangerous, and the legal limit of 0.08% BAC was established as the legal line in the sand between minimal/acceptable impairment and a driver who is choosing to put people at risk.

Teens and people who operate commercial vehicles have even lower legal alcohol tolerances. Commercial drivers are considered to be under the influence if their BAC is above 0.04%, and for those under 21 the state has a “zero tolerance” policy (of 0.02%).

Possible Penalties Under California Law

If you are found guilty of a DUI offense in California, the law provides for the suspension of your license, fines, and jail time. How much of each you receive depends partially on the discretion of the judge and partially on the number of alcohol-related offences on your record. Repeat offenders are often given increasingly harsher sentences, under the presumption that they are more aware of the law and of what they are choosing to do when they operate a vehicle under the influence.

Facts and Statistics

Alcohol-related crashes cost the country about $51 billion annually, and about 40 percent of all traffic fatalities feature alcohol in some way. That makes driving under the influence a serious problem that affects not only your future, but also every other driver sharing the road with you. California takes this public policy issue seriously, applying an implied consent law that automatically suspends your license if you refuse a breath test and a three strikes system for suspending licenses. As a result, repeat offenders quickly lose the ability to drive in the state entirely.

Keep yourself and your loved ones safe when you are out on the road. Make sure you know your limits, and stay away from the wheel if you think you are at risk for being over the limit. If you don’t know, then it’s best to err on the side of caution.

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