Sunday, February 26, 2012

Drinking and driving

A lawyer friend of mine was shaking his head at our laws regarding drinking and driving. They’re ridiculous (I’m paraphrasing, he may have used stronger language). By setting a blood alcohol limit at all, he says, we’re basically DARING people to drink and drive. How close can you get to the limit and not get caught? Human nature is such that boundaries are constantly pushed. Use speed limits as an example. The highway limit in Manitoba is 100 km/h. That’s for optimal driving conditions—dry road, excellent visibility, alert driver, vehicle in good condition. Yet when it’s foggy, rainy, snowy, or dark you can always find many someones blasting along at 120 km/h or even faster.
Because we’re allowed to drink AT ALL, even a little bit, it’s inevitable that we keep trying to drink “just one more” before we head out to cruise home. (As an aside, I believe the only time people drive under the speed limit is when they’re drunk, as they fear getting stopped for a simple speeding ticket and ending up with a DUI.) The message we should be getting is “You can’t drink and drive.” Period. That’s certainly what the public service messages push, but the law doesn’t back them up. It’s like the statutes are the devil on your shoulder, giving you a little nudge and saying “Come on, you can have one. Just one. Everyone knows one is okay.”
You aren’t allowed to drive with a blood alcohol level over 0.08 percent; everyone knows that. Most people use the “one drink an hour” rule as a basic guideline to determine what their current level is at. Only that rule has more exceptions than most realize. The first hour doesn’t count, so basically if you have three drinks in three hours, BANG, you’re over. Sitting in a bar for three hours only gives you two drinks for your safety margin. Then you have to consider body mass and metabolism and a variety of other factors not to easy to keep track. Basically, you never really know what your blood alcohol level will be.
Logically that means you should not have even a single drink and then go out to your car. But what if you have a drink at 7:00 pm (okay, it was 10:00 am, don’t judge me) and don’t leave the bar until midnight? Isn’t that okay? Legally, yes. Public service announcements would say “no.” So what’s the limit? If I drink at midnight am I okay to drive to work in the morning? How much time has to pass between “drinking” and “driving” before it’s no longer in any way considered “drinking AND driving”? What’s a forgivable duration, according to MADD and other upset organizations?
Figuring that out is like the rules for gremlins. “Don’t feed them after midnight.” Well, technically, EVERY time is after midnight, so we need to be a little clearer on our drinking and driving message, too.
The easy solution is right there, yet has never been done, for reasons that I don’t quite comprehend. Bars should have breathalizers. Take out those stupid “Love Machine” things and install a quality, certified breathalizer. I’m not pretending such a step would prevent the diehard idiots from drinking and driving: some people are too stupid to follow any reasonable direction, and the only sad part is that they often take out other, innocent lives in the process of removing themselves from the gene pool. But a breathalizer at the bar would allow a guy like me to drive to the pub, enjoy a beer, and then drive home safely and legally. I’d know I have to sit and wait until I can blow under 0.08. Simple.
Of course bars will never do that, not until it’s made a legal requirement. They stay in business, after all, because of the North American tendency toward binge drinking. Still, it’s something I’d be thrilled to see. We could do it, too. Drinking establishments everywhere thought the “no smoking” laws would be the death of them. Certainly there were some casualties but they were clearly underestimating the addiction of that sweet, sweet booze. We do NOT give up our addictions lightly.
Having an in-bar breathalizer could even become it’s own sort of drinking game, wagering to see who can breathe nearest to 0.08 without going over, Price-is-Right style.

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