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India becoming stricter about blood alcohol limits

September 24, 2007

If you’ve driven after a couple of drinks and live in India, you’ve probably had no fear of the cops putting you behind bars even though India has one of the lowest legal tolerance towards drinking – just 0.03 percent of BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) is allowed in the blood. Unfortunately, few drivers are put to the test.

But of late, one city, Mumbai, has woken up. It has started catching drunk drivers (drive started 20th June). For the first time in history, Mumbai cops are accosting perfectly respectable people and putting them in the slammer for a couple of weeks! Not just that, licenses are being suspended for a period of six months. Earlier, even if someone was caught, offenders got away lightly, on bail, and eventually, a fine. Even though there is a provision to detain people and suspend licenses. But now there is concerted drive to catch those who drink and drive and tipplers in Mumbai are in a state of panic as they’ve been taken by surprise.

Well, accidents have halved in Mumbai in the past couple of months. It is known fact drunk driving is the cause at least half of all road accidents in those countries where drunk driving laws are lax!

The world’s limits
The world has some real stringent limits on drinking while driving, although not all the limits are as low as India’s! The difference is that they take it very seriously and the punishment becomes heavier with each repeat offense. We don’t even have a database of those caught drunk while driving so there is no question of doing that!

Here is just a sample of what happens around the world (most information from the wiki) :
In Canada, drive with over just .08 percent (BAC) and you may not be able to drive for one whole year after that, and plus there is a fine and this is just for a first time offender!
In America too the limit is 0.08 percent (although it varies in some states) and if caught, you can get a year in prison and licences can be suspended on the spot. Interestingly, there are lower legal limits for commercial drivers.
In Sweden, drive with more than than 0.02% (BAC) and you can get up 6 months in jail and if you have as much as 0.10% percent off you go to jail for 2 long years.
In Germany, the limit is 0.05 percent (BAC), but if you are caught for rash driving as well, then the limit decreases to 0.03 percent.
And how do you like this…in Japan you cannot drink and drive at all!
At the other extreme, there are countries which have no limits on drinking while driving, countries like Comoros, Congo and Ethiopia.
Some countries in the middle-east like Kuwait, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, do not allow their citizens to drink at all.

How does BAC translate into an actual number of drinks?
Well, I would think 1-2, or just maybe one. What, one drink?? Well, how well you assimilate alcohol depends a lot on whether you are a regular drinker and when you had that drink before sitting behind the wheel. Roughly speaking, if you start from sober and have two standard drinks, your BAC will increase by about 0.05% (thats already over what is allowed in India). And every drink per hour after that keeps the level up to this much. So perhaps you could have just one drink and drive if you live in India, but best not to take that chance as your BOC depends on your weight, gender, and well, overall on your ability to absorb alcohol. As it says in the wiki:

…neither BAC nor the number of drinks consumed are necessarily accurate indicators of the level of impairment. Tolerance to alcohol varies from one person to another, and can be affected by such factors as genetics, adaptation to chronic alcohol use, and synergistic effects of drugs.

No wonder so many people break the DUI (Driving under the Influence) laws…they feel fit and fine after a drink or two! Even in developed countries this is the case. That is why controlling offenders has become such a headache in those countries where social drinking is far more common than in India.

Alcolocks might become the norm in Sweden
Some countries have decided that enough is enough and are planning to take preventive action. Sweden is likely to fit all new cars with an ‘alcolock’ by 2012. There will be an ‘alcokey’ in which ‘drivers must blow into’ to start the vehicle.

In India we have our very own desi alcolock! Electrical engineering students from Chennai’s MGR University recently made a device which smells booze from one and a half meters away and then simply shuts off the ignition. This device will be modified before it is marketed though.

Alcolocks are a must for commercial vehicles. I doubt where any kind of strict checking will happen on our highways at least. The majority of fatal accidents in India involve commercial vehicles.

At a time when developed countries are thinking of lowering their BAC limits, fitting alcolocks, creating alcohol detection system for cars, checking for driving under the influence of drugs, its time we took a leap forward too. Time for other Indian cities to become as strict as Mumbai. Increasing affluence is getting more cars out there on to our congested roads, and more and more people are able to afford alcohol…so the problem of drinking and driving is just going to increase!

In the meantime let us hope that the Mumbai drive is not a flash in the pan.

Related Reading: Drunk Driving a major cause of road accidents
Technology to help police in cracking down on traffic offenders
What is the solution to India’s high accident rate?
Jail works as a deterrent to stop traffic offenders

At the recieving end of road rage
The rich can get away with rash driving
Traffic and safety problems on the Mumbai Pune Expressway

(Photo is of the police demonstrating blood alcohol testing is from the Mumbai Mirror)

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. B Chopra permalink
    September 24, 2007 11:43 am

    I was looking at that picture again n again.. huh!!!! If that is the way I am going to be checked then I am worried.. 😦 … and Oh My God! such a complicated process added..

  2. September 24, 2007 3:02 pm

    Same goes for Bangalore too .. people who drink and drive cars or mopeds are being arrested by police.. One of my friend purchased a bicycle to come back home from PUBs .

  3. September 24, 2007 3:48 pm

    What a pleasant read! You converted a relative non-issue into one which the reader found interesting, and held on till the last line, knowing fully well that the meat was lean.
    Well, if that is not journalistic skill, then what is?

    Thanks Rambodoc. 🙂

  4. September 24, 2007 4:18 pm

    Hi Bharath, don’t worry. its a painless procedure. 😉

    Nishu, purchased a bicycle? Now, thats very conscientous of him! 🙂

  5. wishtobeanonymous permalink
    September 24, 2007 6:58 pm


    Nice to know the law is actually being enforced. Hopefully it will catch on in other states too! Wonder if they test bus and truck drivers too?

  6. September 24, 2007 7:10 pm

    “.. a relative non-issue..”


    Rambodoc: I do not presume for a second you have not seen or experienced a drunk driver’s dangers on the road. I know someone closely who drinks and drives and everyday he reaches home is a day his mother counts as a blessing.

    Many consider it a non-issue until a person dies under their car while they drink-drive. I imagine the guilt will never leave them.

    Nita: Here in the UK, if you cannot blow hard enough into the breathalyser, they take you to the police station and no, you will not drive there; a copper will take you in his car and another will drive your car.

    I know someone who was banned from driving for 2 years and his brother was a cop who refused to intervene.

    I wonder if this has any teeth in India where licences can be obtained even without a driving test!

  7. September 24, 2007 7:11 pm

    Nita: Time for someone to launch “ScooterMan” in India, I think, as we have in London and in some British cities:

  8. B Chopra permalink
    September 24, 2007 7:13 pm

    See the face of that guy putting mouth on it…. It looks like painful job.

    See You have to put your mouth onto it… hmmmmmm.. At least it’s Good for our traffic police.. Now they don’t have to smell some bad breath.

  9. September 24, 2007 7:29 pm

    Wishtobeanon, the police don’t have any sort of consistency in this regard. Everything is ad hoc. This is the first time that anything has been done consistently and I was impressed with that.

    Shefaly, thanks. Yes, this issue is serious but the fact is that quite a few people don’t think its that serious.
    Over here this testing thing has never been taken seriously either, until now in Mumbai. In Mumbai this time influential people kept ringing up the cops (came in news reports) to let their kin go free but the cops didn’t relent. Its the usual thing to try and use influence to get people off, so that is why the constant calls. But if the cops are telling the press they are getting the calls and not giving in, I think its a sign that where there is a will to enforce laws, there is a way! Just pray that it continues!
    Good to hear about the UK.
    And we have our own scootermen…the rickshawwallas! The point is that people here feel that its infradig to do that. That is the main problem in India. To admit to someone that they have had one too many! I have not met anyone who does this unless they are absolutely sloshed…like about to collapse! Just one drink before that and they are willing to hop into a car and drive!

    Bharath, hopefully you won’t have that much booze that it leaves you no energy to blow hard into that contraption! 🙂

  10. wishtobeanonymous permalink
    September 24, 2007 7:44 pm

    I also hope the traffic cops catch speeders too! Do they have speed detectors and such in the big cities? I haven’t noticed one so far, but have they arrived like the breath analyzers have?

  11. September 24, 2007 7:44 pm

    Nita: We have taxis and buses too, especially night service buses but the advantage of the ScooterMan is that he drives you home in your car so that next morning you do not have an additional task to fetch the car back.

    He brings his own scooter which he folds into the boot, and when he drops you he unfolds his scooter and rides to his own house or to ferry the next drunk!

    This is considered very cool in London. It is a matter of positioning and marketing!

  12. September 24, 2007 7:57 pm

    Shefaly, I didn’t get that folding the scooter thing! Wow, that sounds cool!
    But probably over there the fear of the law has made driving while drinking something to be ashamed of. But here people do it all the time and that is considered cool! Kind of macho 🙂

    yes they have arrived…but not used as often they should! They were using it a lot on the mumbaipune expressway but now I hear they need to be repaired or something!

  13. B Chopra permalink
    September 24, 2007 9:43 pm


    ha ha.. I guess, those who booz can blow better :).. But seriously it’s gonna be hygiene matter – whether they maintain breath analyzer really.. My experience says Our people are famous for maintaining everything pathetic mostly.. I mean maintainance & callibaration stuff..

    I know it’s been maintained well overseas.. but here – I seriously doubt.. are they gonna clean it properly before being forced into the mouth… If someone gonna quetion then they have rights(indirectly) to push them into Jail..

  14. September 24, 2007 10:07 pm

    Not speaking from experience, but it’s one of those issues whose seriousness hits home when either you are behind the wheel drunk and kill someone, or someone you love gets hit by a drunk driver. But it’s too late by then. I’m glad that there’s more awareness of this issue and steps are being taken to minimize the tragic consequences of such irresponsible behavior.

  15. September 25, 2007 10:27 am

    Bharath, I wondered about the hygeine aspect too, I think perhaps they have a disposable mouth piece? At least I hope so!

    Amit, yes it is only if one knows someone who has been a victim that the seriousness of it really hits you. I have someone in my close family circle who died in a road accident. The reality of it can really jolt you out of taking the issue of drinking and driving lightly!

  16. anonymous permalink
    February 11, 2011 3:26 pm

    In answer to the question about hygiene, yes they do use a disposable mouthpiece nowadays.

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