13:11 11 June 2013
Summer looks like it's finally arrived, and what better way to while away those balmy evenings than sinking a few drinks in a pub garden? But if you're driving, you need to remember that even a small amount of alcohol can tip you over the limit - and there are few worse things on the road than a drink-driver.
And, as a motorist, there are few things more nerve-wracking than seeing those flashing blue lights in your rear-view mirror before being pulled over and breathalysed.
I know because this happened to me on the day England were beaten 1-4 by Germany during the 2010 World Cup - I was the owner of a coffee shop at the time and had treated myself to a pint during my shift while the game was on.
A few hours later I was pulled over by an unmarked police car and asked to take a breath test - and although I knew I wasn't over the limit, the feeling of dread at being pulled over, and panic as I waited for the test, result was palpable.
Obviously, the test came back negative and I was allowed to go on my way - much to the officer's dismay, it seemed, as I got the feeling he was sure I'd been out watching the game and drinking all day. But the sweet feeling of relief was mixed with a more chilling one one of 'What if?'
What if I had actually necked a couple of beers and had tipped myself over the legal limit? What would have happened to me? What would have happened to my car? Let's take a look...
What if I'd failed that breath test?
Sunday June 27, 2010 - England's football team has been knocked out of the World Cup, and after waving off the last customer, I close my coffee bar for the day.
But instead of packing up and driving home, let's say I pop to the pub instead, meet a few mates and have a couple of pints. I don't go mad but, with my earlier pint still in my system, it takes my total up to three pints in the last couple of hours.
I jump in the car to drive home and during that short journey I'm pulled over by that unmarked police car, but this time the officer has me bang to rights as I fail the breathalyser test. No ifs, no buts, no maybes, just a fail.
So what happens next?
Upon failing the test I'm arrested, something the officer could have done even if I'd not failed the test as long as he had other grounds to think that my driving had been impaired through drink.
I sit in the back of the police car and have an awkward wait with the arresting officer - I don't much feel like making small talk - until a recovery truck arrives to take my car to the police compound. I won't be driving anywhere tonight, or for the foreseeable future as it turns out.
After only about 20 minutes - why are breakdown recovery trucks never this quick? - my car is towed away and I'm driven to the local police station where I provide two more breath samples, this time using a more sophisticated breathalyser, known as an evidential breath testing instrument.
As my sample shows that I am less than 40% over the legal limit, my evidential breath specimen can be replaced with a blood or urine sample and, as I'm at the station, the officer processing my arrest decides that I'm to give a urine sample.
I'm shown the station toilets, which are cleaner than I imagined, and once my sample bottle is filled - I could've filled it several times over, to be honest - I hand it back before being ushered into a cell where I must wait until my test results come back.
So I wait. And I wait. And I wait - the overwhelming feeling of dread and shame tempered slightly by the tiny bit of hope that I'll pass the urine test and be free to leave.
Then my hopes are crushed and my world feels like it's falling in on itself my samples confirm I was driving over the legal limit and I'm charged with a DR10 offence 'driving or attempting to drive with alcohol level above the limit' - which means an automatic (let's say that again: automatic) 12-month driving ban, between three and 11 points on my licence and an appearance at Magistrates Court.
Magistrates Court! I've only ever been to court to do jury service and that was nerve-wracking enough, this time I'll be in the dock!
At court I plead guilty to the DR10 offence - I could plead not guilty but then I'd be facing an appearance in Crown Court and the possibility of a heavier punishment - and I'm subsequently banned from driving for 12 months, as I knew I would be, fined £250, and issued with six penalty points - and this is on top of the £200 I had to pay to get my car released from the police compound.
So, in total, those quick pints have cost me £450 in fines, the prospect of 12 months without my car and a DR10 endorsement, complete with six points, that will stay on my licence for the next 11 years - meaning that once I get back on the road I'll be paying a lot more for my car insurance than if I'd not been so stupid.
Being the licensee of my bar, I've also lost my personal licence which means that I can no longer serve alcohol at my bar, something which will have a terrible impact on my business.
And then there's the humiliation and shame of being charged with drink driving, which, quite rightly, comes with its own terrible stigma attached.
Still, it could have been worse, at least no-one was hurt - the consequences of that would really have been too much to bear.
Do you know your limits?
Thankfully, my run in with the law didn't play out like that because I was aware of my limits and I never pushed my luck. I had one beer during the match and didn't drive my car until a few hours, some food and several coffees later.
But even that could have been a risk. Although the official alcohol limit for drivers in the UK is 35 microgrammes of alcohol per 100millilitres of breath - or 80milligrammes of alcohol per 100millilitres of blood, or 107milligrammes per 100millilitres of urine - there are so many factors that can affect blood/alcohol levels that the safest thing to do is to not drink at all.
The amount you can drink and stay under the legal limit is dependent upon factors such as the type and amount of alcohol you're drinking, your weight, gender, metabolism and age - younger people tend to process alcohol more slowly, meaning it stays in their system for longer.
And even your own tolerance levels can vary depending upon how recently you've eaten, how much you've eaten and even you're current stress levels - so drinking on an empty stomach while you've a lot on your mind is one cocktail you should definitely avoid!
The Department for Transport have launched some thought-provoking a memorable anti-drink driving campaigns over the years its latest - titled #Publooshocker for maximum social media impact - could be the hardest hitting one yet.
We decided against posting the video on here as it could cause readers some distress - it really is very graphic and very shocking - but you can find it online by searching for #Publooshocker.
If you do watch it, let us know what you think by getting in touch via Twitter @MoneySupermkt or @LesRobertsMSM or leave a comment on the motor blog.
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