By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
Every year, the early sale of hot cross buns in supermarkets across the country sparks a whole lot of hullabaloo and one hell of a debate about when exactly is “too early” to be putting the popular Easter bakery treat on the shelves.
This year, months out from Easter, the humble bun’s arrival also seems to have sparked another, more unusual debate across the nation.
It’s one that you were probably never expecting to hear, and one that definitely sounds a little absurd…
Can eating hot cross buns put you over the drink driving limit (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/traffic-law/offences/drink-driving/)?
Believe it or not, last month, as hot cross buns prematurely hit supermarket shelves, one Western Australian truck driver prompted an online warning for road users (https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/food/food-warnings/truckies-stern-warning-to-drivers-after-eating-hot-cross-bun/news-story/5c516cf416bbef3c74475a41e15027d0) who like to snack on the Easter bun behind the wheel.
Taking to social media, Heather Jones created a video (https://www.facebook.com/PHHGWA/videos/just-a-little-word-of-caution-before-you-all-get-stuck-into-your-hot-cross-buns-/392032991371862/) demonstrating how just one bite of the tasty treat can impact your blood alcohol level.
In the video, which was posted to the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls Inc. Facebook page, Ms Jones can be seen blowing zero on a breathalyser test.
Immediately afterwards, Ms Jones bites into a hot cross bun, chews and swallows it, then blows into the breathalyser again. This time, she records a blood alcohol reading of 0.018.
“This morning we found out something interesting for all you guys and girls who are going to eat hot cross buns for breakfast or for smoko,” she said.
“If you are driving a truck, be really careful this Easter.”
Within a matter of days, the video went viral, clocking up over 4 million views and 110,000 shares.
Since being posted on January 5, 2019, it has received over 7.6 million views and 165,000 shares.
False Reading? Mixed Reactions from Social Media Users
Following the video being uploaded, social media users were quick to offer their opinions on the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reading, with many remaining sceptical.
Some people argued that there are a variety of different foods that can return false readings on breathalysers, advising also that this is the reason users should wait 15 minutes after consumption before using the device. By waiting, this would ensure that there are no traces of the food left in the mouth.
“You should never do breathos’ straight away from eating anyway for this reason. Always wait 15 mins,” the comments read.
Another social media user stated that foods containing yeast in them such as hot cross buns, pizza and bread, regularly record BAC readings right after being eaten.
Others found the whole situation comical and poked fun at the finding.
“I had a 6-pack of hot cross buns last night and woke up with the biggest hangover,” one user wrote.
Another took to highlight the correct way of eating a hot cross bun, asserting, “It’s a crime not heating it up and slapping butter on the thing!”
Warning on False Positive Alcohol Readings from Alcolizer
According to some foods can create a false positive alcohol reading (https://www.alcolizer.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/12660_WhitePaper_Substances-that-Can-Affect-A-Breath-test_LR.pdf).
On its website, it warns, “It has been said that in cooking a pizza, the yeast present in dough can produce alcohol. This is only possible if the pizza was not cooked correctly – and even then, the levels of alcohol would be so low and not detected.”
“That said, forms of fermentation can occur in other foods, especially when the use of yeast is involved.”
The website also advises that the detection of alcohol mainly depends on whether alcohol is either produced from the foods or is present in them, for example included in meal preparation.
“When wine is used in cooking, the alcohol is burnt off. But when liqueurs are added to deserts, for instance, the ingestion of alcohol equates to drinking it,” it reads.
Police Say Little Reason to Worry if Drivers Eat Hot Cross Bun Before Driving
Speaking of the hot cross bun finding, Sergeant Grant Rosman from Pilbara Traffic Police said there is very little reason for drivers to be concerned (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-08/can-hot-cross-buns-produce-false-breathalyser-test/10698438) if they eat a bun before getting behind the wheel.
“We know that there are lots of things that can give us positive readings, but it’s the quality of our equipment, and the policies and procedures in place, that negate the effects of those other factors,” Sergeant Rosman said.
Despite the popularity of the video created by Ms Jones, he advised that “I’ve just eaten a hot cross bun” is not an excuse for blowing over the limit.
“There are plenty of excuses we already hear, from ‘I’ve just had one mouthful’ through to ‘I’ve polished off the last of the Christmas liqueur chocolates’, but our processes and the testing we do eliminates all of those,” he said.
The Verdict on Whether to “Bun and Drive”
In Australia, the legal BAC limit for driving is 0.05.
So, if just one bite of a hot cross bun has the potential to bump up the reading to 0.018, then there is a palpable concern that a whole bun could put a driver over the limit.
This reading would fall under a Low Range offence of drink driving.
The Honest and Reasonable Mistake of Fact Defence for Drink Driving Offences
However, if you were honestly unaware that you were driving over the low-range prescribed concentration of alcohol limit as a result of having consumed food such as a bun, which you didn’t know contained alcohol, you can run the defence of an honest and reasonable mistake of fact in which case you will be found not guilty if it was reasonable for you to have held that belief.
What are the Penalties of Low Range Drink Driving Offences in NSW?
In NSW, a Low Range drink driving offence is committed if a person drives a motor vehicle with a low range prescribed concentration of alcohol in his/her breath or blood, being at least 0.05 but less than 0.08 under section 110(3) Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) (https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/2013/18/chap5/part5.1/div2/sec110).
The maximum penalty (https://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/roads/safety-rules/demerits-offences/drug-alcohol/drug-alcohol-offences.html) for a Low Range drink driving offence is dependent on whether a person is a first-time offender or a ‘second or subsequent offender’.
A person guilty of low range drink driving will be considered a ‘second or subsequent offender’ if he/she has committed a previous drink driving offence or ‘major offence’ within the last 5-years from the date of being convicted in court for the current low-range drink driving offence.
Either way, the starting point in sentencing would see a criminal conviction recorded, a fine imposed and the offender’s licence disqualified unless you convince the Magistrate to not impose a conviction under section 10 dismissal or non-conviction Conditional Release Order- which will result in no licence disqualification, no conviction and no fine imposed.
There is no penalty of imprisonment for low-range drink driving offences in NSW.
Where you are a first-time offender of low-range drink driving, the maximum penalty a Magistrate in the Local Court can impose is:
- $1,100 fine; and/or
- Automatic licence disqualification period of 6-months, or if the Magistrate thinks fit at his/her discretion, to a minimum licence disqualification period of 3 months.
- First-time low range drink driving offenders are not subject to the mandatory interlock program. If this is your second or subsequent offence, then you will be subject to the interlock program.
Where you are a ‘second or subsequent offender’ of low-range drink driving, the maximum penalty a Magistrate in the Local Court can impose is:
- $2,200 fine; and/or
- Unless you are exempt from participating, you will be subject to participate in the interlock program requiring you to install and pass an interlock device into your vehicle, whereby the vehicle will not start unless you blow into the device in order for the vehicle to start.
- This means, if you’re convicted, you will be disqualified from driving for a minimum of 1-month or maximum of 3-months, and then required to participate in the interlock program for the next 12 months thereafter.
- If you are exempt from participating in the interlock program: you will face an automatic licence disqualification period of 12-months, or if the Magistrate thinks fit at his/her discretion, to a minimum licence disqualification period of 6 months.
Is It Illegal to Eat and Drive Behind the Wheel? (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/blog/the-law-on-eating-or-drinking-while-driving/)
It must also be noted that while it is technically not illegal to eat and drive behind the wheel (https://www.news.com.au/technology/innovation/motoring/on-the-road/eating-behind-the-wheel-in-australia-could-cost-you-more-than-a-fine/news-story/315ddb6e385d4489ef7de22f9f930d69), in NSW, drivers must have a clear view of the road, they must have proper control of their vehicle when driving, and they must drive in a reasonable and prudent manner.
So, whilst the law may not specifically prohibit you from eating while driving, if a driver becomes distracted on the road due to eating or drinking behind the wheel and causes an accident, then he/she can face dangerous or negligent driving charges (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/traffic-law/offences/negligent-driving/).
If a driver fails to have proper control of the car in circumstances he/she is engaging in distracting behaviour which causes an accident, the penalties can be significant.
In NSW, driving without proper control of the vehicle carries an on-the-spot fine of up to $448 and three demerit points under Rule 297(1) of the NSW Road Rules. However, if you decide not to pay this fine and contest it by court-electing, a Local Court Magistrate is given the power to impose a maximum penalty of up to $2,200.
Get in touch with us if you wish to discuss this further. We have traffic lawyers in Parramatta (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/about-us/offices/parramatta/), Newcastle and Penrith who provide a free first consult.