Drunken driving is an offence in India, like many other countries worldwide. The object of making it an offence under law is to improve road safety by seeking to bring down the number of accidents and fatalities caused by driver’s fault. We really can’t blame the authorities for thinking that, what with daily news of some drunken late-night-partygoer mowing down footpath dwellers. With statistics saying that almost 78% of all road accidents in India are caused due to driver’s fault , and of those legislators are only emboldened in their views.
Punishment for Drinking and Driving
Now, it is a well-known fact that alcohol may impair brain-body co-ordination, blunt perception and increase reaction time. The degree of these affects varies with alcohol level in blood (i.e. Blood Alcohol Content/Concentration, ‘B.A.C.’). Under Section 185 of Indian Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, anything more than 30 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood (.03% of B.A.C.) for the first time would invite penalty in the form of imprisonment for a term upto 6 months or with fine upto Rs. 2000 or both. Repeated offenders are punishable with imprisonment for a term upto 2 years or with fine upto Rs.3000/- or with both.
Any police officer who is in uniform can stop the driver of a vehicle and ask him to take the breath test to test the alcohol content in his body. Usually, this sobriety check is done using breath analyzers and if need be, the police officer can ask the suspect to a nearby place to conduct breath and blood tests. If in the test, it is found that B.A.C. is at a prohibited level, police officer has the power to arrest the suspect there and then, without any arrest warrant. Arrest can also be made if the suspect attempts to resist the breath test.
The safety check provided to the suspect is that only a police officer in uniform can ask him to stop while he is driving or about to drive in a public place and the breath test has to be conducted as soon as is reasonably possible. So, you have all the freedom that you want to drive ‘under the influence’ as long as you do it in your own garden! Also, if you are driving in high spirits and get caught, the only chance to evade arrest (no, I am not talking about bribing) is if you end up in the hospital because a suspect who is an indoor patient at a hospital is exempted from being arrested.
Blood Alcohol Level in India
So now that we know what the punishment for drunken driving is, the next lingering question is what amounts to drunken driving, that is, after how many drinks you should be afraid of getting caught. Looking at the societal convention in India that once a bottle is opened, it has to be finished, our lawmakers seem little stringent because highest permissible level of Blood Alcohol Content (B.A.C.) is .03% in India when U.K., U.S.A. and Canada have permissible B.A.C. level of .08%, but we can console our poor souls and thank our good stars because our neighbours are in for even tighter measures. In Pakistan, alcohol is banned and in China highest permissible B.A.C. is .02%.
How to know Blood Alcohol Level
There are two ways of knowing whether the alcohol concentration in your blood has exceeded .03%– gulp down as many bottles as you want,walk up to a cop and ask him to give you a breath test (chances are bleak that he will be well-equipped because breath analyzers generally used by police indicate the presence of alcohol by changing colour and not its extent) or try some of the websites  which can give you an estimate of your B.A.C. (results may not be accurate but only to give an approximate idea). Generally, B.A.C. depends on factors like the gender of the drinker, metabolism rates, combination of medications that are being taken by the drinker, number of drinks, time between each drink, amount of food in the stomach, and time elapsed.
Amendment to Penalize Drunk Drivers
Currently, the government is mulling to bring changes in the present Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. The proposed amendment seeks to penalise the driver according to the amount of alcohol in his blood. Present penalty would be for B.A.C of upto .06%, from .06% B.A.C. to .15% B.A.C. penalty would be fine upto Rs 5,000 or imprisonment for a term upto 6 months or both and B.A.C. exceeding .15% , fine would be upto Rs 10,000 or imprisonment for a term upto 1 year or both. This move is already being criticised as a licence to the rich to drink and drive and go scot free by paying up the fine and they seem to be right because studies have found that at .10% to .15% B.A.C., accident risk is twenty five times than at .01%.
A more novel way of penalizing was recently seen in Delhi when the court ordered a man, convicted for driving with 178 mg of alcohol in his blood, to do community service by controlling traffic for eight hours every weekend. He was also fined Rs. 1000. The danger that drunk driving poses to the driver himself and those who may have the bad luck of coming in his path have got even the car manufacturers worried and they are working on such cars whose ignition would automatically turn off if sensors present in the car detect blood alcohol content of the driver exceeding the pre-set value.
So, the next time you drink, think twice, not (only) because it might pinch your pocket but with the risk it poses to others’ lives, whether it is worth taking.
”Road Safety in India” by S.K. Mishra, Director (Road Transport), Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways, Govt. of India.
 For example, http://www.ou.edu/oupd/bac.htm is one of such sites. But remember, 0.08% is for U.S. roads and in India, highest permissible B.A.C. is .03%.
Student, National Law Institue University, Bhopal (M.P.)
[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]