Monday 21 October 2019

Can a second slice of tiramisu put you over the drink driving limit? Motorists may want to take extra caution

It's hard to resist an extra helping of boozy dessert, writes Bill Linnane, but motorists may want to take extra caution...

Take it to the limit: Bill Linnane blows into his breathalyser after gorging on alcoholic desserts
Take it to the limit: Bill Linnane blows into his breathalyser after gorging on alcoholic desserts
Bill Linnane

Bill Linnane

Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae once said that eating a big meal before driving could be a factor in causing accidents.

The opinionated TD, who is also a publican, went on to say that he personally avoids eating large meals after work, because he knows they would make him sleepy on the drive home.

The revelation came as a surprise, not only to the scientific and medical community, but also to the people he was addressing at the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, as they were discussing drink driving, not dinner driving.

But maybe there is a vague semblance of truth between the facts on alcohol - it is a factor in 38pc of all road fatalities in Ireland - and Deputy Healy-Rae's folksy musings when we put alcohol-laced foods under the breathalyser test.

Granted, cooking removes most of the alcoholic content in food, but there is one course that is the final bastion of boozy dining - dessert. Desserts like tiramisu or sherry trifle are famous for their drink content, so the question posed here is can eating desserts put you over the drink driving limit?

According to a study by All Car Leasing, the answer is yes: two portions of tiramisu can put you over the limit. Their study also covered lesser-known foods like orange juice, which can contain tiny amounts of alcohol produced as the orange ferments - but boozy desserts are the most direct way to inadvertently go over the line. So this was the test - just how easy is it to get over the drink driving limit by eating treats?

The initial step in any scientific endeavour is to seek the advice of an expert. The first warning sign that this might not be the most important piece of investigative journalism since Watergate was that the medical expert I consulted didn't wish to be named.

"I just don't see the merit in what you're doing," they said. I took this as a sign that I was on the right track - if the medical community was against me eating desserts until I was hammered, then there was something here that was just waiting to be blown wide open, either a looming war on liquor-laden desserts from the neo-prohibitionists, or possibly just my belt. My so-called medical advisor pointed out that as I am six foot and weigh 13 stone, I would need to consume a very large amount of dessert to actually get that much alcohol in my system, and would possibly just make myself sick in trying. Challenge accepted.

The first time I got drunk, it was on sherry trifle. The story became family lore, of how after my dessert I was singing, waving out the window and trying to open the door while the car was moving. I was 11. The lesson I took home from this is that sherry trifle is wonderful, and that booze makes me hilarious. So I set about finding a sherry trifle with which to start my test. It turns out that most modern sherry trifles now don't have sherry in them, but rather have sherry flavouring. After a pathetic trek asking various supermarket staff if any of their desserts had booze in them ("I'm a journalist," I told them, as if this explained my tragic quest), I tried Midleton's The Farmgate, where the local petite bourgeoisie go to get sozzled on cake. I was relieved to find they had a delightful sherry trifle which had a decent whack of sherry.

After that it was off to Aldi and Lidl (the Germans know their booze, and their desserts) where I picked up any dessert that had an alcohol warning on the front label. Then it was off home to gorge.

First up was the Aldi Irish Cream Liqueur Cheesecake, which contains an impressive 15pc of Irish cream liqueur. It's meant to serve four to six people, but as I hadn't eaten all day, I downed it all in about five minutes. I used my AlcoSense breathalyser - which, at €80 from Boots, is a solid purchase for any dessertaholics - and it told me I was still well under the limit for learner or new drivers, which is 0.02pc blood alcohol concentration (the level for full licence drivers is 0.05pc BAC).

So it was on to two portions of Aldi profiteroles, which still failed to take me over the lower limit. It was time to take a more direct route: a box of Aldi Mister Roth Whiskey Truffles, eaten in the most joyless way possible. At this stage, I was wondering if it was all a terrible mistake, but I knew the experiment was being done in the name of science.

I waited half an hour and tried the breathalyser: I was at a solid 0.029pc BAC, easily over the limit for learner drivers. I didn't feel especially under the influence of anything other than the sugar screaming through my bloodstream, but the breathalyser doesn't lie - I would have been unfit to drive.

I knew that if I was to cross the upper limit, I would need to go to Defcon One - with a Marsala wine-soaked tiramisu from Aldi. Meant to serve four to six people, I sat there alone, forcing down its rich creamy goodness as I broke a mild sweat. I waited, puffed into my breathalyser and saw that I had pushed myself to 0.037pc BAC, a worthwhile return for the horror of gulping down a platter of tiramisu.

Next was a box of Lidl Deluxe Cocktail Truffles, 10 chocolate malty balls infused with spirit. Eating them was akin to the boiled egg challenge in Cool Hand Luke, but I got there in the end, and while I was still able to sit upright in my chair, I shoved a number of Marc De Champagne truffles down my throat, and another portion of Aldi profiteroles just to be certain. With the last wheeze left in my bloated, corpse-like form, I huffed into my breathalyser, which gave me the warning beep I was praying for - I was at a decadent 0.058pc BAC, over the limit for driving in Ireland. I was also yearning for the cold embrace of the grave due to the amount of treats I had consumed, but the facts were clear - it is possible to get over the drink driving limit by eating a large amount of desserts.

There were two take-homes from this - one is that the majority of Irish people understand that drinking and driving is not acceptable. The staff in The Farmgate said that many diners will deliberately avoid any dessert that has alcohol in it, so the days of getting trolleyed on desserts appears to be disappearing fast. Alcohol is rapidly becoming an indulgence that we enjoy in the comfort of our homes, and there is nothing wrong with that.

The second take-home was that it was easier to get over the limit than I thought - I never would have considered tiramisu as something that could possibly influence my ability to drive, or to consider it as a potential unit of alcohol - but it is. There are, as Deputy Healy-Rae pointed out, many factors that can influence our ability to drive safely - tiredness being one of them - but the days when we can pretend that consuming alcohol in any form and getting behind the wheel as an acceptable practice are gone.

Anyone who does it and ends up in a motoring mishap of their own creation is simply getting their just desserts.

Irish Independent

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