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“But I Wasn’t Drunk”

How Alcohol Impairment Can Actually Fool You into Feeling ‘Sober.’

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Many people arrested for DWI in Minnesota are shocked to discover that their test revealed a higher alcohol level – sometimes much higher – than they believed possible. In considering whether they should get behind the wheel after drinking, most people ask the same question: ‘Am I safe to drive home?’

At first glance, this appears to be a reasonable question to ask as we use our senses all the time to regularly monitor our physical condition and fitness. But we also know that alcohol can impair otherwise good judgment.

DWI arrests can happen long after the last drink is taken, many times involving drivers who truly believed they were unaffected by alcohol and able to drive safely. They may have been fooled into a false sense of sobriety due to the ‘Mellanby effect.’

The Mellanby effect is the phenomenon where an individual’s perceived level of impairment at identical blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels is greater when the BAC was rising than when it was falling. In other words, you feel more impaired while drinking than you do after drinking even though your alcohol level is the same.

For example, if you drink enough to reach a peak BAC level of .12 percent, your body will begin the process of burning off alcohol once you stop drinking, eventually lowering your BAC to zero.

During this elimination period, your judgment of your present impairment level would naturally be a comparison with how you feel at the moment against how impaired you felt while you were drinking, and your BAC was rising.  

After a couple of hours, you might feel unaffected by alcohol and confident in your ability to safely drive your vehicle home. What you may not realize is that although you don’t feel drunk, alcohol may still be impairing your judgment by setting you up to make a poor decision. Here’s how:

The average person burns alcohol off at the rate of .015 percent per hour. This means that a BAC two hours after a .12 peak would still be .09 percent, which legally intoxicated under Minnesota’s DWI laws.

Recent studies of the Mellanby effect using driving simulators indicate that a person’s motor-coordination skills will be worse during the burn-off period than while drinking even though the alcohol levels are identical. 

The key lesson of the Melanby effect as it relates to DWIs is to remember that regardless of how sober you feel, alcohol can influence your decisions way beyond ‘last call.’ In other words, feeling sober too soon after drinking may just be the alcohol trying to fool you! 

If you find yourself facing DWI or OWI charges and need to explore your options for getting your driving privileges restored, our seasoned lawyers can help. Defense attorneys are available 24-7 — Call us at 612-334-3342.

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