Friday night and you hit the pub. Hard. You don’t mean to but it’s been a long week and it’s great to be jolling with your colleagues. Steve, who won salesman of the month again, buys the first round. You’re amazingly thirsty. You all order burgers and chips. Now you can have a second glass of wine because you’ve lined your stomach.

As you drain the glass someone hands you another. Oh well, you’ll  just water it down with lots of ice. Again, as soon as your glass is empty someone hands you another. But the jukebox is blaring and you’ve been dancing for what feels like ages so you must have got all that alcohol out of your system.

Someone orders shots all round. You’ll just have one then you’ll leave. You only live down the road so you’ll be okay, right? Wrong!

They catch you around the corner from the pub. They breathalyse you. Guess what? The burger, the fries, the ice, the dancing… none of them stand up to the amount of alcohol you’ve consumed.

Your limit was one small glass (75ml) of red or white wine, alcohol content 12% – 14%. PER HOUR. You’ve had 4 glasses in 3 hours. And a shot. Oh and wasn’t there a glass of bubbly somewhere along the way for someone’s birthday?

Now the fun really begins: a blood test, fingerprints, a charge laid, loads and loads of paperwork, and finally bail will be set. You can’t go anywhere until bail is paid and it will be a minimum of R1,000, but the officers dealing with you have it in their power to determine a higher amount.

Oh sorry, we were wrong about the fun. It really begins now. If you are arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (or drugs), you will be detained for a minimum of four hours according to SAPS Standing Orders. But we all know reality, don’t we? You’re likely to be detained for much longer, especially on a busy weekend night, before you’re bailed out.

So they lock you in a cell. An actual cell. The only place to sit is on the concrete floor between the blood stained woman who axed her husband in the head and the woman who had too much to drink and vomited down her front. Oh hold on, that’s you. No cosy guest loo here to clean yourself up.

Now let’s get clear about bail. The police are under no obligation to set bail for you quickly and they can keep you in detention for 48 hours. That’s if it’s not a weekend, a public holiday or a long weekend. Then – get this dear drinker – they can keep you until the first court date after the holidays. Wow! You lost all your rights down the bottom of a bottle of alcohol.

Here’s a great tip

If you get arrested for driving while drunk or drugged, be nice! Be very very very nice.

Next is your trial. Be warned: the only person who is in a hurry over this is you. There’s sure to be at least one postponement because there’s a disconnect between getting the results of the blood test and the courts. You could have this hanging over your head for a good long while.

If you finally are convicted you will, at the least, have to pay a fine and, at the most, you can be imprisoned for up to six years. But wait, there’s more. The judge is obliged to suspend your driving licence for at least six months. And if you don’t learn from the experience and you’re convicted a second time, your licence will be suspended for five years; a third time, it will be suspended for ten years. Seriously dude? Catch on!

As if that’s not bad enough, you will find yourself with a criminal record which precludes you from ever visiting the USA (and many other countries), and will have to be declared on every job application.

So here’s a better tip

Way back at the beginning of this whole nightmare, you got to make one phone call. Who did you call? You’re in jail for a serious crime. You need a lawyer. Yes, if you’re going to trial and you can’t afford a lawyer, the state has to provide one for you, but this is not the same as having your own lawyer on your side. But how many ordinary people do you know with a lawyer on call?

Actually you don’t have to be special to have your own lawyer. You just have to be wise, and that, my drinking buddy, means getting legal insurance.

Legal representation costs a fortune. Lawyers routinely charge between R1,000 and R5,000 per hour. That can become a whole lot of pain whereas for just R120 per month, you can get legal insurance that will entitle you to call in your own lawyer, one who will ensure you don’t spend a moment longer than necessary in that awful cell, and that your life is not ruined by this incident.

There is no annual limit to how many times you can call on your lawyer.  You are covered for between R120,000 and R200,000 per matter, which could be criminal, civil or labour. Best of all, you have a lawyer available 24×7. With your risk profile, you’d be crazy not to get legal cover.

Finally, the best tip of all

Don’t drink and drive.

The truth is that you don’t have to have consumed a specific amount, you just need to be considered (usually by a state doctor) to be under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a narcotic drug. That said, a general guideline to staying under the limit is one unit of alcohol per hour, roughly equal to:

  • Two thirds of a beer or spirit cooler with a 5% alcohol content. The higher the alcohol content, the less you can drink of it
  • 75ml of red or white wine with an alcohol content of 12% to 14%
  • 25ml of spirits such as whisky and brandy.
  • As for narcotics, you can’t get away with even a single hit of marijuana.

And no, drinking coffee or water, no matter how much, or having a cold shower, does not help. Once the alcohol is in your system your liver has to process it and your liver works at the pace it works no matter what you do.

Pay attention now

According to the Justice Project, it is an offence to drive a vehicle, i.e., anything with wheels including a bicycle and a skateboard, or to occupy the driver’s seat with the engine of a motor vehicle running, while your blood contains:

  • More than 0,05g of alcohol per 100ml of blood if you hold an ordinary drivers licence
  • More than 0,02g of alcohol per 100ml of blood if you hold a Professional Driving Permit (PrDP).