Woman With 4.1 BAC Should Have Been Dead. Instead, She Drove.

blood alcohol poisoning with BAC of .41A lot of people who drink regularly are only dimly aware that alcohol is, in addition to being a sedative, an inhibition-releaser, and a vital ingredient in a Margarita, a poison. Beyond a certain dosage, alcohol can induce coma and cause death.

People who drink responsibly don’t have to worry about blood alcohol poisoning. In fact, you need to be pretty determined to take in enough alcohol to endanger your life. Usually you are incapacitated before you’ve consumed enough booze to trigger respiratory failure. Yet it does happen, particularly among young, inexperienced drinkers who end up in the emergency room after winning a drinking contest.

A Massachusetts woman was pulled over in Rhode Island recently. A breathalyzer test put her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at 4.11 – more than five times the legal limit for intoxication. More astonishing, that level is well over the limit for alcohol poisoning. Here’s a recap of what the effects are at different BAC levels.

  • .04 – .07 Feeling no pain. Life is good, inhibitions are low. Your memory and general brain function is not at its best, though.
  • .08 – .10 Motor coordination is impaired, and your reflexes are slow. There’s a reason you’re not allowed to drive at this level.
  • .11 – 15 Here’s where you stumble slightly when you get up from your barstool. Your judgement is bad, which is why so many people drive drunk at this level.
  • .16 – 20 This is your comic drunk, who stumbles, slurs words, and needs help to get into a taxi.
  • .21 – .25 Blackouts, vomiting. All the fun is gone at this point.
  • .26 – .30 You’re passed out, if you’re lucky.
  • .35  This is where it gets serious. Blood alcohol poisoning is imminent. You should be in an emergency room at this level, since you’re most likely in a coma.
  • .40  Normally you’re in a coma and, if medics don’t get to you in time, dead.

So how did a woman manage to drive at over .40? No one can say, but what is certain is that she was lethal to everyone else on the road. She was booked for the most extreme DWI violation the state has – driving with a BAC over .15. You read that right – a BAC of .15 is considered “super drunk,” and driving with that much alcohol in your system exposes you to severe punishments.

What should the penalty be for driving with a 4.11 BAC, presuming one escapes the usual penalty of death by alcohol poisoning? Our suggestion: an ignition interlock for a term in proportion to the extreme nature of the violation: 5 times the usual length. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Perhaps it could keep this offender from risking her life – and the lives of others – by driving again at such an astronomical level of intoxication.