We all know that drunk driving is dumb, bad, etc etc. I’d hope that you take every precaution to avoid hitting the road after enjoying a few craft beers, but I’d also wager that we’ve all had that moment where we ask ourselves, “Am I okay to drive?” before getting behind the wheel.
But here’s the thing: do you know what .09 feels like? How can you tell if you’re really under the legal limit? I’d wager than you can’t.
Armchair scientist, prankster, and buster of myths Rob Cockerham — creator of the wonderfully irreverent Cockeyed.com — questions the logic behind California’s DUI laws, and asks about the ethics of holding people to a practically immeasurable standard.
“I have a problem with the law against drunk driving in California.
The law specifies a legal limit of drunkenness, and provides for serious penalties and consequences for exceeding that limit. My concern is that it is very difficult to measure levels of intoxication, requiring complex chemical analysis which is not generally available to people as they assess their own driving ability.”
He goes on to compare understanding your level of intoxication without being able to measure it to knowing how fast you’re driving without having a speedometer. He first attempted to quantify the difficulty by throwing a breathalyzer party where he challenges his guests to guess their blood alcohol content at various times during the party. He followed up that “experiment” (for which the data was less-than useful) by taking to the streets of Sacramento during St. Patrick’s Day and setting up a “Guess Your BAC Booth”.
This time, the results looked more like data, and he even produced an assortment of graphs! Cockerham’s conclusion is that people are really terrible at estimating their own level of intoxication, and that DUI laws are problematic.
What if the speed limit was 6,000 feet/minute? How would you know what that was like? Could you trust the other people on the road to know? Would you constantly recalculate your position and the time which had passed since your departure? Without any experience of having their blood alcohol tested, people don’t have enough information to make a good prediction of what reading they will achieve. The drunk driving laws are unique. The legal driving limit is set at .08, but most people don’t know when they’ve reached that level of intoxication.
It’s kind of frightening to think about how easy it is to have a couple beers then jump in the car without thinking about impairment. I had a close friend who was pulled over for an innocuous infraction (broken tail light perhaps) and then compelled to blow a breathalyzer test by the Highway Patrolman. He blew a .09 and the resulting DUI conviction was utterly devastating for him.
“I couldn’t even feel anything!” he later told me, baffled by how the few beers he’d had over a few hours at a wedding reception put him over the legal limit. He had felt 100% sober, but he was intoxicated enough in the eyes of the law to suffer fines in excess of $10,000 and much emotional stress.
It’s one of the more insidious effects of alcohol; booze impairs your judgement — especially when it comes to evaluating how impaired you really are. It’s nearly impossible to do it accurately.
Since we’re all beholden to the California DUI laws, the only real option we have as beer lovers in Los Angeles is caution. I don’t mean the kind of caution where you calculate which route home from the bar is least likely to result in a possible encounter with the Po-Po, but rather the kind of caution where you don’t get behind the wheel if you have any doubts about your BAC. My personal rule of thumb is if I can feel ANY effects from alcohol, I don’t drive. If I know I’ll be having more than two beers of average strength I arrange for alternative transportation (oh, how I wish Uber had a frequent rider discount). It’s far from a perfect system, but it’s one reality of being a beer-lover in Los Angeles.