Vice Squad
Friday, August 06, 2004
On Knowing Your Blood Alcohol Content

Generous Vice Squad reader Larry from California sends along this comment (and an apology to Larry for somehow getting his name wrong earlier -- now I am worried about the California part, too):

"It's illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration above a certain
level, but bars and restaurants have no obligation to provide tools for
their customers to evaluate their level of intoxication before driving.

Bars could have breath testing units at tables or in restrooms, or just
copies of the BAC chart that California's DMV sends me with my car
registration every year. Testing devices could have a maximum BAC
reading to prevent customers from competing to register high readings.

Obviously this idea has potential problems, such as

* Testing devices could be hard to maintain and guard against theft or

* Bar drinks can contain more than one standard drink, making a chart
hard to interpret and potentially misleading.

* Alcohol takes time to be absorbed so test results in the bar might not
reflect a drinker's blood alcohol later while on the road.

* Liability issues, although legislatures could certainly deal with this.

* A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% is definitely illegal in
most states but the opposite is not true. A driver can be considered
intoxicated even with a BAC below .08%.

More generally, government does not seem to want citizens to know how
much alcohol they're drinking. Proposals to label alcohol containers
with the number of standard drinks they contain have gone nowhere, even
though alcohol consumers might find that information helpful."

Until the mid-1990s, a federal law prohibited the disclosure of alcohol content on beer advertising or labels in the US, but this law was overturned by a Supreme Court decision. Presumably there is concern that advertising alcohol content will cause an "arms race" for higher and higher alcohol levels. (My year in Britain convinced me, perhaps wrongly, that the Brits must have a law requiring alcohol content disclosure on beers -- and it did seem that the higher alcohol content beer became more popular as closing time approached.) I believe that alcohol content disclosure is handled differently by different states in the US.

A bar/restaurant in North Carolina that I used to frequent briefly had a breathalyzer available to its customers. Its main use, as far as I could tell, was to encourage contests to record the highest BAC -- so Larry's suggestion of a maximum reading sounds good to me. (Maybe even just an above/below the legal limit indicator.) My recollection is that someone who is drinking steadily will see his BAC maximize about one-half hour after he stops consuming alcohol. (Please do not rely upon this information/misinformation; for that matter, do not rely upon anything posted on Vice Squad.)

In general, I just don't have much information on the rules/effects surrounding alcohol content disclosure, or on the provision of BAC measuring devices. Happy to hear from knowledgeable parties.

Here's a webpage that discloses the alcohol, calorie, and carb content of lots of beers.

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