Q: My husband and I just shared a bottle of wine at dinner. Should we drive home or call a cab?
A: Do not drive if you believe your ability to drive is impaired, no matter how little alcohol you may have consumed. Also, remember that, while your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) may well be under the legal limit after having shared a bottle of wine at dinner, driving after drinking any amount of alcohol is risky. Many factors affect the BAC, and, in the absence of accurate chemical testing, your best guess may prove incorrect.
Q: If we have carefully assessed the situation and decide it’s safe to drive home, does it make any difference whether I drive or my husband drives?
A: If you have assessed the situation correctly and both of you are confident your BAC is under the legal limit, it will not matter who drives. However, you should be aware that the BAC of a female generally will be higher than that of a male if all other factors (weight, amount of alcohol consumed, duration of consumption of alcohol, similar food consumption, etc.) are equal. This is because of a number of differences between the female body and the male body. For example, a woman’s body generally contains less water and more fat than a man’s body. Both of these factors generally allow more alcohol to be absorbed into a woman’s bloodstream than is absorbed into a man’s bloodstream. Further, women typically have 30 percent less of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol.
Q: What if all other factors are not equal?
A: Still assuming both you and your husband believe your ability to drive is not impaired and that you can safely drive home, the most important factor to take into consideration when deciding who should drive is your difference in weight. The person who weighs less generally will have a higher concentration of alcohol in his or her blood. However, unless you weigh substantially more than your husband, your husband is likely to have a lower BAC. Remember that, if you aren’t sure about your status, you should not drive.
Q: Doesn’t the law provide different legal limits of BAC for men and women?
A: No; the law does not differentiate between men and women regarding the legal limits of BAC while operating an automobile. While there have been claims that the law discriminates against women and attempts have been made to change the law to reflect the results of scientific studies, these efforts have failed. Despite the differences in the way the male and female bodies process alcohol, the science behind breath testing uses the “law of averages” and treats all men and women alike.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by attorney Jon J. Saia, a partner in the Columbus law firm, Saia & Piatt, Inc.