All about drinking and driving

Last Updated: Fri, Dec 14, 2012 19:32 hrs

With the year-end festive season upon us and the media exhorting all “to be of good cheer”, it would be useful to review what the pitfalls are of being “high spirited” in India — something normally brought home to a reveller if/when pulled up by cops for testing blood alcohol content (BAC).

BAC is the percentage of alcohol in one’s blood. This varies with the amount of alcoholic beverage consumed, one’s body mass and the amount of time between imbibing and testing (as time allows the body to metabolise some of the alcohol). The legal limit for BAC varies from country to country (and in India, from state to state). Many countries have a “zero tolerance policy” (Brazil, Pakistan, Russia and most Western countries, for drivers under 21 or with “L” plates); China has a limit of 0.02 per cent, India generally 0.03 per cent, in most Western countries it is 0.05 per cent, and a generous 0.08 per cent in Canada, the UK, the US and a few other places.

What do these figures mean? Well, one drink (150 ml of wine or a half-bottle of beer or 45 ml of spirits) will produce a BAC level of about 0.02 per cent; two drinks will push this to 0.04 per cent (over the limit in India but perfectly legal in most parts of the world); three drinks (0.06 per cent) is about the limit even in the West.

However, the law is unclear about the grounds on which a driver may be stopped for testing. In Bangalore, the cops will write on the challan (in Kannada), “Stopped for rash and negligent driving”, then “tested for alcohol and found over the limit” — which implies that they actually have no grounds for stopping a law-abiding citizen if he (or she) is driving normally. As it is, the cops tend to set up checkpoints just outside bars and hotels rather than on the highway (where stopping a speeding car would be tougher) and pounce on the unwary emerging from the watering holes. Sometimes the location of these checks depends upon the consideration provided (or not provided) by the hapless bar owners.

So what does one do? The easiest solution is, of course, to follow that old family-planning motto (“Ek ya do bus” — “one or two is enough”). Other solutions include having a designated driver in the group who will abstain, or even hiring a driver for the evening (the Easy Driver Service in Bangalore is a good one). And no, chewing paan or a mint cannot fool the breath-analyser, only the poor sap who shoves his face into your car window and asks you to “say haa”!

What does this mean for us in the festive season? There is no denying that the mere thought of having to cope with the cops for alcohol testing (and the possibility of a fine or worse) is a big bummer for many, and does certainly inhibit spontaneous partying. But with a bit of pre-planning and self-discipline (and dollops of luck) most should get through with nary an encounter.

Wines I’ve been drinking:
Winemaker, artist and owner of the eponymous winery Bibi Graetz was in India this week, and importer Vishal Kadakia of Wine Park held tastings and dinners in Mumbai and Bangalore for four of his wines. Bibi hails from Tuscany region of Italy, and has his winery near Florence. An artist by temperament who started making wine only in 2001, he creates his own labels — abstractions bursting with colour, much like his award-winning wines.

His entry-level wine, Casamatta (“crazy head”), is aromatic and very drinkable and, with Wine Spectator ratings of 90 points, terrific value for money. The flagship Testamatta (“crazy house”) is complex and layered: the 2006 vintage got 98 points from WS, the highest that year for an Italian wine. But it is Soffocone (“big suffocation”) that is really interesting. Juicy tannins with lots of cherries and berries (It’s 90 per cent Sangiovese), its inspiration is what young lovers do. However, with 92 points from WS, Soffocone 2009 is a wonderful wine in its own right.

As the Italians say, Salute! And Merry X’Mas!

Alok Chandra is a Bangalore-based wine consultant

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