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Drinking After Playing Hockey

How much can I safely drink after playing hockey and then drive home?

Canadians of all ages play our national pastime, the great game of hockey. In many beer leagues, it is common to have a few brews in the change room after the game. Obviously, this is a violation of the Liquor Licence and Control Act, but this law seems not to be enforced as long as no problems arise.

So how much can you drink after playing hockey and still safely and legally drive home? To answer the question, you must realize that there are two criminal laws and a provincial offences law, that apply with regards to DUIs (Driving Under the Influence) offences in Canada.

The Criminal Offences

The two criminal laws are found in the Criminal Code of Canada and have to do with either or both:

  1. your ability to operate a motor vehicle while being impaired by alcohol; and/or
  2. having 80 or more mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood.

After a tiring game of hockey, it is possible that you might be legally impaired by alcohol after as little as two bottles of beer. If you are tired, whether by lack of sleep or lots of exercise, even modest amounts of alcohol will impact you, even amounts below the 80 mg mark, and you may be criminally charged with the first of the above two offences. If your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is determined to be 80 mg or more of alcohol in 100 ml of blood, you will be charged with the second of the above two offences. Frequently, drivers are charged with both offences if they are determined to be impaired and also have a BAC of 80 mg or more.

The official position of Ontario’s Centre of Forensic Sciences is that everyone’s ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired at 50 mg, and that impairment may occur even at only 20 mg. While most toxicologists put the reading at around 100 mg, it is generally accepted that when a person is tired, it takes less alcohol to become impaired. Keep in mind that from a Criminal Code perspective, “impairment” is any impairment in your ability to operate a motor vehicle, even slight impairment, if it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. So right after a game, two beers in an hour might make you legally impaired. For women, given that they are generally lighter in weight than men and have a different physiology, even less alcohol can be safely consumed.

As well, recently the police are adding “dangerous driving” into the charge mix. So, you could have this additional criminal charge to defend against and potentially on your criminal record.

It is correct to say that you could have a BAC under 80 mg and not be guilty of that offence (the offence of having 80 or more mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood). However, that does not help your situation as you could still be convicted of impaired driving. The penalties are the same for both offences.

It’s also worth noting that celebratory drinking in the excitement after, for example, winning an important game, can affect you without you being aware of it. The effects of adrenaline, created naturally by your body during the game and which may be amplified by the emotions surrounding a “big win,” can have a masking effect on the alcohol that you are about to, or have already consumed. This result is sometimes referred to as “the sobering effect”—where the feeling of a stimulant such as the adrenaline created during the game, counters the feeling and effects of impairment by alcohol. It’s deceiving. Regardless of how sober you may feel, your BAC level will not be affected. If you are pulled over, or stopped by the R.I.D.E program, you may register a “fail” (by blowing over the legal limit) on a breath alcohol testing instrument and be arrested.

Remember: it is an urban myth that you burn off a beer an hour, making it “safe” to drink a beer an hour. It takes two hours to burn off twelve ounces (355 ml) of regular strength beer. If you are an average sized adult male, consuming one beer an hour will bring you to 80 mg or over, as well as to impairment—in only a few hours.

Possible safer options for post-game drinking could be to have a shandy i.e., half beer and half ginger ale or Sprite, or “lite” beer, or some of the more innovative (yet tasty) drinks. There is a product available at the LCBO made of grapefruit juice and beer, which has half the alcohol content (2.5%) of regular beer and is really refreshing. Even modest changes in post-game habits can go a long way toward ensuring that you are not charged with drinking and driving, and ensuring safer roads in Ontario.

The Provincial Offences

A 175 lb. male who consumes two bottles of regular strength beer over the space of an hour (say while relaxing in the change room after a game), would likely have a blood alcohol reading of about 40 – 50 mg. While having a 50 mg BAC does not put our recreational hockey player in the range of the criminal offence of having 80 or more mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood, it does make him someone who is not “legal to drive” in Ontario.  At 50 mg and up to 79 mg, a driver would receive a three-day licence suspension and have to pay a fine if caught by the police. The penalties increase with subsequent offences:

For a First offence
  • 3-day licence suspension. This cannot be appealed.
  • $250 penalty
For a Second offence within 5 years
  • 7-day licence suspension (3-day suspension for commercial drivers). This cannot be appealed.
  • $350 penalty
  • Our hockey play would have to attend a mandatory education program (for a second occurrence within 10 years)
For Third and subsequent offences within 5 years
  • 30-day licence suspension (3-day suspension for commercial drivers). This cannot be appealed.
  • $450 penalty
  • Our hockey play must attend a mandatory treatment program (for third and subsequent offence within 10 years)
  • Our hockey play will be required to use an ignition interlock device for at least six months (for third and subsequent offence within 10 years)
  • Our will need to undergo a mandatory medical evaluation to determine whether he (or she) meets the requirements for driving in Ontario (for fourth and subsequent offence within 10 years).

In addition to the above penalties, this hockey play will also have to pay a $281 fee to reinstate his (or her) licence, after each licence suspension. (See the MTO website at: http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/impaired-driving.shtml#what-counts)

The Bottom Line

Although drinking after playing hockey is quite common, it is important to know the risks and consequences of being arrested for a DUI in Canada.

Hockey teams plan on how to win the game. Hockey players need to plan on how to get home safely.

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