Can You Drink Alcohol Free Drinks and Drive? We do the maths

Can you drink any amount of alcohol free drinks and then drive? Do they all contain the same amount of alcohol? The results are surprising.

You can reasonably drink up to 400 bottles of alcohol free beer (<0.05% ABV) without increasing your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit of 0.08%. You could drink 900 glasses of alcohol free wine and have 3200 measures of alcohol free spirits. Other factors such as size, age and sex and can have an affect on this.

We will look further at all these scenarios and crunch the numbers to show just how unlikely it is.

For a full list of 12 non alcoholic beer benefits then read my article here

What is the legal limit for alcohol and driving

In the USA, the federal limit of to drive is a blood alcohol concentration of under 0.08%. This equates to the 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in the UK. The question is how many drinks does it take to get to 0.08% BAC and would you want to even become close?!

A commercial driver must have a BAC of under 0.04% and a level of 0.02-0.04% means they cant drive for 24hrs.

In some states there are zero tolerance laws meaning anything from 0.00-0.02% can be illegal if you are under 21 (the legal age to drink)

Category of driverAllowable BAC
Under 21Either 0 or <0.02%
Commercial <0.04%
Over 21<0.08%
USA Drivers and BAC

Measuring in standard drinks

In the USA, a measurement of alcohol is called a standard unit. This corresponds to roughly

  • 12 fluid ounces of regular 5% beer
  • 8-9 fluid ounces of 7% malt liquor
  • 5 fluid ounces of 12% table wine
  • 1.5 fluid ounces of 40% distilled spirits

The UK and elsewhere would use units of alcohol as opposed to standard drinks. 1 unit of alcohol would be higher than 1 standard drink.

A 330ml 5% beer in the UK would equate to 1.65 Units. To work out the units of alcohol in a drink you use the following equation – (ABV) x (ml of drink) / 1000.

How many standard drinks to get to 0.08% BAC

The simple answer is there is no simple answer. There are many variables to how your body will process alcohol and how this will affect your BAC. These include your sex, you age, you weight, if you’ve been eating, how quickly you are drinking, if you have any underlying medical conditions, how much you normally drink etc.

Therefore any guide is just that, a guide. It is generally understood that on average, 1 standard drink will increase your BAC by 0.2% so you may need up to 4-5 standard drinks to get to a blood alcohol level of 0.08%.

However, as stated if you are a small woman then you will need considerably less than a 300lb man.

At this point i would like to point out that any BAC over 0.02% will start to impair driving ability and should be avoided.

How many alcohol free drinks make 1 standard drink?

12 0z Bottle of beer by ABV % UK Unit US/Canadian Standard Drinks
5% Regular Beer1.65 1
1.2% Low alcohol0.3960.25
0.5% Dealcoholised0.1650.1
0.05% Alcohol free0.01650.01
Alcohol per bottle

You can see that you would need 100 alcohol free drinks to equal 1 standard drink. So in order to get a DUI with 0.08% BAC you’d likely have to drink in excess of 400 bottles/cans of beer in an hour.

Ive written about how to tell the difference in the various types of low/dealcholised/alcohol free beer, wine and gins. Learn how to avoid mistakes

You would need to drink 37.5 gallons of alcohol free beer an hour to fail a drink driving blood test

Bottle of wine by ABV % UK UnitsUS/Canadian Standard Drinks
13.5% Red wine10.1255.94
1.2% Low alcohol0.90.53
0.5% Dealcoholised0.3750.22
0.05% Alcohol free0.03750.022
Alcohol per bottle

You are able to drink 45+ bottles of alcohol free wine before it counts as a standard drink equivalent.

700ml/23.7oz bottle of gin by ABV %UK UnitsUS/Canadian Standard Drinks
37.5% Regular Gin26.2515.4
1.2% Low alcohol0.840.49
0.5% Dealcoholised0.350.2
0.05% Alcohol free0.0350.02
Alcohol per bottle

You are able to drink 50+ bottles of alcohol free gin before it counts as as standard drink equivalent.

Zero tolerance and commercial drivers.

If we assume a commercial driver needs to stay below 0.04% BAC and an under 21 driver in a zero tolerance state under 0.005% BAC, how does that equate in terms of standard drinks and alcohol free standard drink equivalents?

A commercial driver may be able to have 2 standard drinks (roughly) and before getting a DUI. An under 21 in a zero tolerance jurisdiction could only have 1/2 a standard drink.

Class of driverStandard drink limit Alcohol free beer limitAlcohol free wine limitAlcohol free spirit limit
Over 2144009603200
Under 21 ZT0.550120400
Standard drink limits – illustration only

So you can see if a driver sticks to alcohol free drinks they would be doing very well to fail even the strictest of drink driving laws.

My under 21 limits are only for illustration purposes only. Guinness 0.0 and indeed all alcohol free drinks are marketed and sold to adults over the legal drinking age. It is true that legally the could be sold to someone under the legal drinking age but as my article here explains, that doesn’t generally happen.

Beer represents the highest risk as its the most volume per standard drink equivalent. Alcoholic standard drinks are volume adjusted for their ABV %, but all alcohol free drinks have the same ABV % so the only variable is their volume

However if we now compare this to the other types of reduced alcohol drinks that can all fall under the single umbrella term of “non alcoholic” we can see that some things do change and drivers, especially the under 21s in ZT zones would need to be at least slightly careful.

If you remember that non alcoholic drinks can have up to 0.5% ABV and low alcohol drinks can have up to 1.2% ABV

Class of driverStandard drink beer limitAlcohol free limit Non alcoholic limitLow alcohol limit
Over 2144004016.66
Under 21 ZT0.55052
Complete drink driving limit for beer in standard units

You can see from the table above that an under 21 in ZT zone might only be able to have 5 or less “non alcoholic” 0.5% ABV drinks before getting a DUI or only 2 of the “low alcohol” 1.2% standard drink equivalents.

For the over 21 year old even having 16 shots of glasses of 1.2% wine an hour seems unlikely to fail a BAC driving test.

For a full 11 reasons to try non alcoholic gin, follow this link to my article.

For 13 reasons why you should try non alcoholic wine then follow this link to my article

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