Sleighing Under the Influence (SUI)?

December 14th, 2009

santa_drinkingAn ad campaign in Canada for Labatt Blue is getting quite a bit of flack online today. The ads, which are showing up in convenience stores across Canada, feature a sign that says, “Leave one out for Santa. He’s driving.” However, the ads are for non-alcoholic Labatt, but that doesn’t seem to matter to some.

“I don’t think that’s quite appropriate,” said Kathleen Clifford, 65, who saw the ad at a Mac’s at Gerrard and Mutual Sts. yesterday.

“Children see that and they think we’d better leave beer for Santa instead of cookies and milk.” she said. “I have grandchildren and great-granchildren and I don’t approve of it. “Maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy.”

Wonder what Ms. Clifford would think if she saw all of the Santa and Christmas related beers released during this time of year. Interestingly enough, MADD, a group which you would think wouldn’t be fans of such an ad campaign, are pretty indifferent to the whole thing.

“This is not drinking and driving. It’s a Labatt issue and whatever their philosophy is behind the ad is certainly up to them,” said MADD Canada president Margaret Miller.

So this story got the lawyer in me thinking about the legality of actually drinking a non-alcoholic beer while operating a car, sleigh, lawnmower, snow blower, etc. I had planned on doing lots of legal research and maybe calling a few attorneys, but that sounds like a job for a newspaper that is only available online now, doesn’t it? Oh, well, yes. Yes it does.

hesdrivingSo, the reader wonders: “Can non-alcoholic beer, containing less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), be consumed while driving? Or is that considered an ‘open container’ violation?”

After reviewing the law, State Patrol Trooper Dan McDonald gave the reader’s question some thought and according to his interpretation, it would be a violation. But’s he’s not sure the officer would issue a citation.

“If there is any alcohol in it, then that is a violation. Even if it’s something like one-half of 1 percent, technically that’s still alcohol, according to the letter of the law, McDonald said. “But I think the officer’s discretion would come into hand. Everything is situational.”

Granted this law applies to only Washington, but I assume the law is pretty generally accepted throughout the rest of the U.S. as well, maybe even Canada. So, Santa, you might want to rethink drinking one of those non-alcoholic beers that gets left out by a generous and fun-loving six-year-old. And all you other aspiring Santas might want to be careful with your non-alcoholic libations when operating your own vehicle, lest you fall into the realm of “officer’s discretion.”

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    Matt

    Matt is a freelance journalist, fiction, and nonfiction writer. He recently graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor with a degree in English and a subconcentration in creative writing. Matt enjoys watching Arsenal soccer games, Michigan football, and all things beer—especially stouts and anything imperial. He can be reached at mbemery@gmail.com.

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