Chapter 7

Alcohol and the Law

The responsible driver has "NONE FOR THE ROAD."
"Friends don't let friends drive drunk."

Unquestionably, alcohol is the most abused controlled substance in the United States. This popular controlled substance is involved in about 30-35% of Georgia's fatal traffic accidents. The denial and lack of acknowledgment by drivers often leads to catastrophes on the road. Awareness of what signs are commonplace in the problem drinker will help reveal the driver's problem before it manifests behind the wheel. Awareness of the penalties associated with drinking and driving related laws may also deter one from mixing alcohol with the often difficult task of driving. Many lives can easily be ruined by the problem of drinking and driving.

Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Alcohol is absorbed directly into the blood stream. After the alcohol is absorbed, it affects and damages many bodily organs, including the heart, stomach, and liver. It can cause enlargement of the heart (leading to congestive heart failure), cancer of the digestive system, and possibly hepatitis and/or cirrhosis of the liver. Drinking too much at once can lead to an alcoholic coma, which in turn can lead to death. The higher learning centers of the brain are the first to be affected, followed by muscular control, and then vital functions such as digestion, breathing, heartbeat and circulation. Alcohol also affects your vision. The delicate, small muscles that control your eyes are not able to focus and move correctly. The more relaxed the muscles, the fuzzier the picture becomes (this is when double vision occurs). Other results are:

Alcohol is a depressant, thus it slows the activities of the brain, affecting judgment, reflexes, and coordination. If the brain receives images from the eyes that are blurry and unclear while the brain's functions slow down, you have a great recipe for disaster. Some other effects alcohol has on the brain include:

A. Blood Alcohol Level / BAC .08% - When you reach a level of alcohol in your blood system of .08%, you would be legally DUI, or driving under the influence. For commercial licenses, the BAC level is .04%. If you were to consume one alcoholic drink per hour, you would most likely not be in danger of getting near .08%. Conversely, increased consumption of alcohol over a short period of time would most likely lead to an illegal BAC. For example, a 150 lb. male or female consuming four alcoholic beverages (one ounce each) over a two-hour period would have a BAC of .086% if a male and .105% if a female. This exemplifies the need for individuals of varying weights and tolerances to know their own limitations. However, there is no safe way to ever drive while under the influence. Even one alcoholic drink can make you an unsafe driver on the road.

One alcoholic drink is the equivalent of a four-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer, or a shot of hard liquor.

The body is able to absorb one ounce of alcohol per hour, or the equivalent of one drink per hour. If three drinks were consumed consecutively at the beginning of an hour, the equivalent of two drinks would remain in the bloodstream at the end of that hour, as the body would only have absorbed one drink. (The liver can only absorb a limited amount of alcohol at any given time.)






.01 - .04%

No overt effects

Slight feeling of muscle relaxation, slight mood elevation.


.05 - .07%


Feeling of relaxation, warmth. Slight increase in reaction time, decrease in fine muscle coordination.


.08 - .15%


Balance, speech, vision and hearing slightly impaired. Feelings of euphoria, increase in reaction time and increased loss of motor coordination.


.16 - .20%


Major impairment of mental and physical control. Slurred speech, blurred vision, and lack of motor skills.


.21 - .30%


Loss of motor control - person needs assistance moving around. Minimal control of mind and body.


.31 - .40%

"Close to Coma"

Unconsciousness - little to no reflexes. Subnormal temperature, lack of circulation. Threshold of a coma.


.41% +

"High Probability of DEATH"

Deep coma. Probability of death from respiratory paralysis.

B. Zero Tolerance Law (drivers under 21) - If you are under the age of 21 and suspected by a police officer of drinking alcohol, you are required to take a Preliminary Alcohol Screening Test [PAS]. If your BAC is .02% or higher, or if you refuse to take the PAS, you are considered DUI, and you will have your license suspended. You will also have to pay a fine. If there is no PAS devise available, you will then be given the option of taking a blood, breath or urine test.

C. Presumptive DUI - A peace officer can arrest you at a BAC he/she believes is below .08% based on his/her professional opinion that you are unsafe on the road. A conviction for DUI may still be imminent, despite the actual BAC level being below .08%.

D. Impaired Driver - An impaired driver often has consumed trace amounts of alcohol, yet still is dramatically affected as a result. Alcohol can affect individuals in many different ways, with minimal amounts doing substantial damage. Alcohol alters behavior and causes you to become mentally and physically impaired.

E. Implied Consent - Under the Implied Consent Law, you must take either a blood or breath test when asked by law enforcement. Refusal will often call for a one-year license suspension and the presumption that you are under the influence of alcohol. These tests are not to be confused with Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs are often administered on the side of the road - see examples of FST), but are actual chemical tests admissible as evidence in DUI cases. In Georgia, refusal to consent to testing is admissible evidence in court.

F. Administrative Per Se Law (Admin Per Se) - When you drive in Georgia, you consent to take a blood or breath test if you are stopped for driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. This law allows for an officer to confiscate your driver's license if you refuse to take, fail to complete a test, or have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) exceeding .08%. This effectively allows for a suspension of the driving privilege without any formal DMV or court action. The police officer will take away your driver's license and serve you with an order of suspension or revocation. In most court cases, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but when you test .08% BAC or higher, it is your burden to prove your innocence.

G. 1 in 2000 - It is remarkable to imagine, but it is often said that there are approximately 2000 drivers on the road at any given time that are DUI for every one arrested. These numbers exemplify the difficulty those in law enforcement have in trying to curtail the problem of the drinking driver. There are simply too many on the road who abuse alcohol behind the wheel for officers to catch.

H. Dram Shop Law - The Dram Shop Law is based on the theory that all those involved with the drinking driver are somehow responsible for the problem. Bartenders, hosts, friends, and family could be held responsible under this law. In Georgia, if an establishment knowingly provides alcohol to a minor or obviously intoxicated person with the knowledge that the person will soon be driving a motor vehicle, and that person causes harm as a result, it may be held liable for damages. What do you think? Is it personal responsibility only, or should we all take some blame?

I. Road Awareness - If only one DUI driver each night emerges from a local bar, restaurant, or establishment serving alcohol and takes to the road, imagine the number of intoxicated drivers on our roads. All drivers should be aware that more than one intoxicated person leaves these establishments each night and floods the highways. Late at night on the weekends are consequently peak times for drinking drivers on the road.

J. Effects of Carbonated Drinks - Carbonated alcoholic beverages, such as champagne, hit the blood system and brain much more quickly than non-carbonated drinks. The drinker rarely knows the effects of the drink until it is too late. Festivities that celebrate life with a glass of champagne often lead to catastrophes because of alcohol abuse. Alcohol and driving simply do not mix!!!

Fines and Penalties

A simple fact of life: If you break the law, you must pay the price. However, if you drink and drive, you may also pay with your life. The punishment for a DUI will vary with the level of intoxication in addition to other variables, but listed below are some penalties to expect:

First Offense -

Second Offense Within Five Years -

Third and Subsequent Offense Within 10 Years -

Example of an FST

The field sobriety test, or FST, involves a field determination of the drivers' ability to operate a motor vehicle. The test given may include the following:

A. Balance Test - A driver may be asked to raise one leg off the ground and touch the nose with an index finger. A drinking driver's equilibrium is affected, and the driver would have trouble with this simple balance skill.

B. Walking a Straight Line - An officer may ask the driver to walk along a line on the roadway, moving the feet heel to toe and repeating. Again, balance is observed.

C. Counting Backwards - Speech is dramatically affected when alcohol is consumed. Counting backwards will reveal slurred speech patterns, as well as one's ability to concentrate on a simple task.

D. Touching Finger Tips - Basic coordination is influenced adversely by alcohol. When asked to touch fingertip to fingertip, the drinking driver often has extreme difficulty.

E. Following Directions - The officer may ask the driver any question that may determine his or her sobriety level. Following basic directions is very difficult when alcohol is introduced to the brain.

F. Nystagmus Test - The nystagmus test relies on the effect that alcohol consumption has on the ocular nerves. Consumption of alcohol slowly weakens the eye muscles to the point where the eye can no longer follow in "smooth pursuit" of the finger or object being moved horizontally by the peace officer. An expert in this field (the peace officer) will verify that the fluttering or twitching of the ocular muscle is a direct result of the alcohol.