Sunday, October 01, 2000

Tip for tipplers: Don't drive

        Things I learned while getting drunk in the presence of cops:

        1. They can tell.

        2. While they're thinking, “She's impaired,” I'm thinking, “No fair — I haven't recited the alphabet since third grade!”

        3. For me, the giggling starts at a blood-alcohol level of only .039. This suggests Kentucky's new limit, .08, is not only reasonable but even generous.

How to calculate your blood alcohol content
        Last week, the Fort Mitchell Police Department graciously allowed me to make a fool of myself. We wanted to see how a level of .08 would look and feel, so over an hour and 20 minutes, I drank four, 12-ounce beers while sitting at the police station. Periodically, Sgt. Jim Bussman gave me sobriety tests and checked my blood-alcohol level.

        I was surprised. I didn't realize how quickly a drinker goes downhill. You think you're OK, but you can't do two simple things at once, like count backwards from 89 and remember to stop at 56. So how will you remember to switch lanes and check your blind spot?

        My experience can't be used as a guide for everyone, because intoxication varies depending on each person's weight, food consumption and rate of drinking. Still, I was alarmed by my performance, and the results offer lessons for us all.

        Drinking two beers between 2:25 p.m. and 2:48 p.m. left me feeling .. extremely cheerful. I would not have been comfortable driving a car, but my breath registered only .039.

        At this point, Sgt. Bussman gave me four tests. I balanced on one foot and counted to 30. I walked heel to toe, pivoted and returned. I raised both arms, tilted my head back and touched finger to nose.

        And I counted backwards from 89 to 56.

        Hmmm. I couldn't remember: Did he say to stop at 56, or some other number?

        “What do you think?” Sgt. Bussman asked.

        “Fifty-six,” I said.

        “Are you guessing?”

        I shrugged and laughed. “Everything's a guess in life.”

        Uh, oh — I'm getting philosophical. Never a good sign.

        Sgt. Bussman laughed. If this were a real test, however, he would be considering whether to arrest me. I managed to pass the other three exercises, but if my performance had been shaky enough, I might have ended up in cuffs.

        The official breath test is given at police stations or the jail, after the arrest is made.

        After four beers, I tested at .095 — illegal under the new law but not under the old one.

        At this point, I'm swaying slightly as I touch finger to nose and fail that test. After walking heel to toe and trying to turn, I take an extra step backwards and forget to pivot. Another F.

        I manage to touch my fingers together while counting from one to four and back. I also was able to lift one leg and count to 30. But I royally flunked the alphabet test, neglecting to follow instructions, skipping the letter “v” and putting an “x” where “s” belonged.

        Did I mention it's been years?

        Watching myself on videotape later, I saw how goofy I became as the drinking progressed. Here's the scary part: I didn't know it. I thought I did pretty well on the alphabet.

        I'm glad the limit has changed to .08. It won't affect the chronic drunken driver, but it should give the rest of us pause. And if that pause turns into a call for a cab, that's one less giggly philosopher making the road dangerous.


Kentucky DUI gets tougher today
Facts about Kentucky's new DUI law

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