The Danger in DUI

I have a friend back in Georgia who happens to have a very high tolerance for alcohol. She got a call, while at a bar drinking, requesting she pick up a friend in trouble, and she headed off to help them. She was followed from the bar by a police officer who pulled her over and arrested her for DUI, and yes she was over the legal limit.

She maintains that she was not "drunk," and that her driving was not impaired. I mention this because I do think drunk driving is a serious offense. I had two friends from high school killed by a drunk driver, so I certainly take it seriously.

However, I think that there is a very stark difference between "over the legal limit" and "drunk" or "impaired." For example I would rather get in a car with this friend driving slightly over the legal BAC limit than get in a car driven by a clone of myself who was suffering from sleep deprivation, which I often am since my son was born.

Since the original arrest, a compounding of bad circumstances led to my friend sitting in jail for 3 weeks, consequently losing her job, and now her apartment. Because of all that, there is no possible way she can afford a good lawyer to fight the charges. If she gets convicted it will mean a fine of 300-500 dollars, a year of probation, 40 hours community service, a 250 dollar dui class, at least a year suspension on her license, another fee to get her license reinstated, and finally the possibility of getting sentenced up to 11 months more of jail time.

In the meantime a DUI conviction will make it very difficult to get a new job, and cause her car insurance to skyrocket. All this is for a first offense. Doesn't this seem a little draconian? Yes drunk driving kills, but my friend did not kill anyone. It is not even clear that anyone was in danger.

Back in Texas, I had another friend call me one day (this was several years ago) while driving home from a bar and inform me in the process that she was "really drunk" through slurred speech. I begged her to pull over and told her to get off the phone. She made it home fine. This friend is now a career woman who has no stigma to worry about from her night of reckless driving, but my friend in Georgia will likely have this DUI follow her for years.

Actually, driving while slightly buzzed or worse seems to be widely practiced. I would guess 60-70 percent of the people I have known over the last decade have at some point driven while over the legal blood alcohol limit. I know very few people who would hesitate to jump in the car, and drive out to a friend in need after only consuming a couple of beers. (I wouldn't do it, but just because 2 beers would practically knock me out...) The draconian laws are not even remotely a deterrent for those who do not feel impaired. Nor do the BAC limits seem that accurate at determining impairment.

Ultimately I feel like my friend is being punished for the damages she could have caused, had she actually been impaired and gotten into an accident, and not for the "crime" (driving while over the legal BAC) committed.

Share this

what a load of crap

she got drunk, drove, got caught and thereafter got screwed by the state. seems entirely justified to me, if you were to leave aside whether the state is legit.

what drunk person admits they are drunk? if we were to convict criminals based on whether the criminals think they should be convicted, there would be very few convictions.

Load of crap except, as noted, DUI is our national sport

Make DUI a felony and people will take it seriously.

Why is it impossible to have a serious discussion on this topic?

You weren't there, you do not know that she was drunk. Admittedly I am taking the word of a friend. However I know she can drink plenty and still not be "drunk." And that plenty would likely put her over the legal limit. Myself on the other hand would likely not be safe while still under the legal limit.

The load of crap is people who assume that any DUI offender is necessarily a sloppy ridiculous drunk. The blood alcohol limit is set so low most people could be perfectly safe to drive and still above the legal limit -that is my point. Thank you so much for missing it. And people who put no one in actual danger are treated the same as those caught swerving and slurring their speech who cannot even stand up straight.

Of course anyone who tries to broach the subject must be a DUI apologist not someone arguing against an unjust and arbitrary law. Luckily people who do not even have the courage to put a name next to their opinion carry very little weight with me.

Also the level of seriousness is not having an impact... my other point. It does not stop people from driving who do not think they are drunk especially when they are trying to help or get to people who need them. Yes many of those people are drunk, and occassionally kill people in the process. Making it a felony would do nothing... the laws are already draconian you would just be locking up more people with high tolerances...

I'll try to keep a neutral

I'll try to keep a neutral tone, but I find little problem with the consequences of the DUI charge, and ask that you consider the same circumstances occurring to someone else that you do not know, not even by name--a complete stranger--and reflect on whether or not you would still feel that the consequences were justified.

I'll grant that you may, especially as the end of your article questioned if the consequences were too much for the regular stranger getting out to DUI. Now you did say you have had a regrettable experience near the consequences of a fatal DUI, so now I ask you to imagine not only your friend in the article not getting into a simple DUI, but seriously harming or killing someone else *and* surviving.

I suggest that the point of the harsh consequences of DUI convictions are designed as preventive measures and that the "fact" (I don't know if it is) that there may be many who still DUI whether or not they get caught is more a matter of not educating more people about the real consequences of a DUI conviction, let alone the "obvious" but probably distant thought of actually killing or even harming someone else (especially if would be DUI-ers can get the thought that it is probably worth the risk to probably not hurt anyone by your DUI driving if you have to go pick someone else up or do an "emergency" visit of some kind).

The consequences for DUI convictions can be thought of as prices put on the act of driving under influence because those who created, voted, maintain, enforce, and do not fight the law have decided that it's a fair price to charge for the risk to public safety. If it wasn't a fair price, if the consequences were too much or it didn't get "charged" properly (either too little chance of catching DUIs or having too many to catch, which could be a function of how many actually do it and how many officers are looking for it; fortunately in the case of the bar it seems there are officers who seek to do an efficient job at detecting potential DUIs), then someone should seriously be looking to change the rules or the allocation of law enforcement attention.

If you feel that the DUI threshold is too low or too high, then I ask only that you bring this up to your lawmaking body. Personally, I don't have a clue as to what is a good blood alcohol level, I'm a person who'd prefer to take caution over the potential to rush off and do some kind of rescue of a friend (if it was serious enough I'd call a sober friend or the authorities, if it wasn't my friends better be understanding enough to grant me the delay to accommodate my drinking, or else that'd be way too much drama of a relationship for me).

If you've guessed that I'm not much of a drinker, you would be correct, but I manage to stay conscious despite a good amount of drinking from what little I have done. I don't drink mostly because I am cheap, not only with my money but also with my time and how long it takes to recover from that kind of drinking. I'd drink socially, and if this is what your DUI laws consider too much for driving, well I'd still play along and avoid DUI, or else I would speak up about it where it would do the most good--the lawmaking body. But in my experience in the city, you learn not to drive to a drinking event or venue unless you're strictly designated to drive, and the availability of taxis and even the odd volunteer organization to drive you to where you need to be.

I'm not going to say much more about any institutions or traditions about drinking which might be correlated to taking the risk to DUI even given a good-sounding reason, but I will repeat that there should be awareness about real consequences to not just harming under DUI, but being convicted and the probability of getting caught, enough so that coupled with the provision of good alternatives DUI shouldn't even be something to consider.

Maybe in your area the people who DUI most are people who just get out of work for happy hour, and had to drive to work to begin with, and that's not something I know much about, but in that case the threat of the consequences of DUI conviction should be even more important, as there'd be more to lose, as you'd already described about your friend. Again, I suspect it's primarily a matter of raising public awareness and pressing the point that trying DUI should not or at least probably is not worth it, even after having enough alcohol to impair even the best judgments.

And though you did not even hint at asking for it, I have this advice and apologize for taking initiative: if you really consider yourself a friend, you would share the story of what happened to both of your friends, the ones who are not here today as well as the one who lived to face the consequences, in hopes of keeping other friends from experiencing the same pain. Tell them it's not worth it, and if you really care, offer your sober and hopefully alert driving time as an alternative. Pride might be an issue but as a sinner myself I think it's still a message that can be heard, especially in a case where experimenting, gambling with DUI has a really bad payoff when you lose.

And if you still support your friend's case, short of assisting with finding new work or other direct aid to them during their difficult time, you could be finding other people in the area who agree that the threshold is too low or the consequences too much (maybe they are) and do something about it. In either case, you'd be contributing to the lowering of convicted DUIs, but you probably already know that the main question to never forget is, would you also be helping prevent actual DUI deaths, in real numbers and not just some theoretical arbitrary assertion?

May I ask, is there some kind of reliable taxi service in the areas where these apparently common DUIs occur (detected by the law or not)?

My gosh, that was long, and if it was coherent I am surprised. Thanks for bearing with me.

What is the legal limit in your state?

My impression is that studies have shown pretty solidly that when someone has an 0.08 BAC, which is the limit in some states, they are no more likely to get into an accident. It is hard to do this retrospectively, but you can do randomized trials with driving simulators, for example. This could mean that 0.08 is exactly right, and driving starts to deteriorate above it, but come on, what is the chance the state got it exactly right? It seems much more likely that from, say, 0.08 to 0.12, there is no or only a small amount of increased risk.

And that's not even counting individual factors.

So you could easily be over the legal limit, and not a danger to anyone on the road.

I don't have any background

I don't have any background regarding actual BAC levels except from when I've drunk but even then I've never been measured. Maybe the research does show that whatever level has been set is too low. However, I think I know just enough about statistics to guess that there's probably an increasing likelihood of accidents as a direct result of alcohol impairment from higher levels of blood alcohol, which is enough to ask the community making the laws the question: "where do we draw the line?" If there were other quick ways of assessing the driving capability of a driver relative to how drunk they seem, besides letting the cop's gut instinct tell them so, then we can sidestep the blood alcohol issue. I'd probably still go w/ a cop that errs on the side of safety and brings a tipsy driver into the precinct for evaluation (and to get them off the road), but I wouldn't want a cop to take anybody heading out of a bar to the station just b/c they came out of a bar and started driving.

Maybe there are other ways to reduce drunk-driving related injuries and deaths, and I'd say I was sure if I could think of one right off the bat that didn't involve an advanced bank of sensors that kept you from driving your car as soon as it was sure you're in no fit mental state (which could also take care of tired driving), but it'd still fall down to drawing the line somewhere. Maybe there shouldn't even be a line drawn, that's a valid position, maybe with the thought that drunk drivers that get themselves killed are acceptable losses, as well as the harm they cause or maybe drunk driving doesn't really cause accidents, but I think that would be a callous thing to say.

Even if the chances of actually causing an accident while drunk is slim, people making laws find them important enough to try and prevent with the main tool in their toolbox, making laws against it, probably w/ the logic that it would act as a deterrent.

As an aside I repeat that any legal attempt to deter an act through threat punishment should be backed up with credible threat of enforcement, so the law by itself isn't the issue. I think people are generally agreed that death by drunk driving is a bad way to go or lose someone, and most of those people would say that it's right to try and prevent it. Writing a law to check for blood alcohol and having enforcement check for it is an accessible response, probably more so than developing smart technology or assigning drivers to everyone who might drink (or even providing more than enough taxis at super cheap prices to take people wherever).

Seriously, I'm getting sleepy, and to avoid messing w/ people's reading times and skimming abilities, I'll wrap up, promise.

The only thing that I feel worth adding at this point is that yes, people might die more frequently in car accidents from causes unrelated to alcohol--tired people falling asleep at the wheel (something hinted at by the article writer, and something I've done myself in the past (I even admit to tapping the car ahead of me in bumper to bumper traffic, something which actually made me more vigilant about avoiding driving in those conditions ever again (sleepy or through such traffic))), distractions from cell phones and texting (that's been legislated against in California too, and it's probably even harder to detect and enforce than DUI, but I take it more as a signal that people out there consider it enough of a threat to think twice about making those calls, b/c maybe there is some truth to the risk?), and even straight up bad drivers (but that's kinda ambiguous to watch for I think, something that the DMV should be raising their standards for if you think it's that serious).

However, the topic here is DUI and the legal consequences so I stick to that. I don't think a threshold based on a breathalyzer reading is unreasonable, and I trust in the willingness of the community to speak up about what is a reasonable threshold value and hope that informed experts on the issue are involved in the debate and can share their knowledge to educate the rest of the community to help make responsible but not over-protective decisions.

Now as to the 0.08 or whatever your respective threshold is, maybe some references to studies and reasonable interpretations might be in order?

I do admit figuring out if you're at that number threshold or not is hard enough without drinking, even with their tips based on body weight and number of light vs. heavy drinks, maybe if it was possible to say and enforce "no alcohol at all while driving" that would be acceptable to more people in light of any risk of DUI injuries. Even then I think I take the wiser route of simply going ahead and applying that to myself before the lawmakers do, and never touch the stuff if I'm driving.

They just better have a good mango drink. Good night!

Tim Harford, the Undercover

...oops, actually somebody

...oops, actually somebody not Tim Harford linking to what Harford wrote regarding the thing. But you might say channeling him or invoking him...

Shoot, despite the length I

Shoot, despite the length I forgot one of my earliest points that I wanted to make, one which goes with my opinion regarding the DUI threshold.

Yes, I was not there, and I do not know if she was actually drunk. For that matter, I'm not sure what your definition of drunk is, but your definition and even my definition doesn't matter. I assume the biggest criteria at play was what the breathalyzer measured and what the legal codes say is the most that breathalyzer can read. I seem to have gotten the impression that an actual blood alcohol level reading was taken. If it was a more arbitrary assessment that led to the arrest and conviction then your friend has a wider recourse. However, if it was a by-procedures reading with a legally-acceptable device in working order, then your friend's individual case, despite having nasty consequences, stands and I would probably agree should it be open to a jury and me on it.

The definition of what constitutes DUI in this case was hopefully cut and dry or else there's a bigger issue to take up w/ your legislative body. What you or I believe is the DUI threshold does not matter, in fact what the officer thinks is the DUI threshold does not matter. What matters is what your legislators decided was the threshold.

It doesn't matter if your friend could have demonstrated the skills to outdrive the police officer or even a sober and alert driving school student with the instructor at their 2nd brake and their mom at a 3rd brake. It doesn't matter that you probably wouldn't have been able to outdrive the student driver if you were as inebriated. The question of whether or not she was DUI was I assume not a subjective one; she got a breathalyzer, and the numbers on there exceeded legal limits. Again, if it was subjective, then there are probably bigger problems with the system there, but I hope that the DUI laws are objective and fair by treating everyone equally despite of what they can still do under influence, otherwise I'd have to worry about cops taking the extra time to figure out if someone could potentially crash their car or worse hurt someone else, not to mention worrying about giving people even more leeway in figuring out if they're fit to drive.

I'd prefer the simpler situation of setting an agreeable blood alcohol value that can be objectively measured, and setting a balance that still gives people the freedom to drive with some drink and accept a hopefully reduced risk of accident due to alcohol impairment while keeping the majority of statistically higher risk blood alcohol levels from taking the wheel. If only other laws could be as seemingly enforceable (like with a breathalyzer), with all the discussion and subjective argumentation taking place in the legislative halls, instead of a good amount of field assessment by officers that could be back on patrol.

A by the numbers statistical approach might seem callous and cold, but when you're in the field where that person you just pulled over might be drunk as a skunk with a gun in the glove or even a 2 ton people killing machine under their questionable control, you don't want to have to think about if someone should be let go or if they can make it to their destination fine, you want to leave that to the dudes in the suits who make the laws who hopefully listen to what the people also want, as well as the judges and juries that can also take the time to deliberate on the guilt and severity of the rule broken.

That last part felt weird, I'm a bit tired. Again, thanks for bearing.

Darn it, I'm a slave to my

Darn it, I'm a slave to my stream of consciousness, and not smart enough to leave you all alone. One more thing...

If the article is really just about the harsh chain of side-effect consequences beyond the direct court-assigned sentence/punishment, perhaps the lawmakers took the social stigmata attached to breaking a rule that probably has gotten a lot of public attention when they designed the law (or if it was up to the judge then perhaps the judge did), in which case, assuming the law is a deterrent, then again I say there needs to be more education about the real and complete consequences of DUI convictions to act with greater impact. It's hard to say that the article author's friend can be made an example to others, but when it comes to a law like this the alternative is to make the actual consequences on the books much tougher while eliminating side effects completely, which is unrealistic.

Regardless, I think the more people know about the details of this case the better, either to be more careful in staying well clear of breaking the law or to discuss it further if it demands the priority, or even make changes about the law outright. Names don't need to be given, but the details should.

Ah, the article writer by

Ah, the article writer by the last paragraph also seems to be against punishing what could have gone wrong vs. what rule was actually broken, and after glancing over the article again, I think that was the main point. That is something I, fortunately don't have any clue how to discuss without having to bluff substantially or simply state a general opinion.

My opinion though is that if the judge assigned the punishment, then the judge would have been setting precedent (or following the precedent of an earlier judge). Here I reveal my ignorance for parts of the legislative-judicial relationship, which is no doubt a huge ignorance. Still, assuming the judge assigned punishment, I think applying legislation and courts for punishment as a tool for preventing acts in society is valid in general (as opposed to using laws and court decisions to merely applying justice in "correcting" a wrong). Real examples provide the best sources for the seriousness of the warning, although better public awareness and education programs may be effective (like D.A.R.E. in this case).

If there was a better alternative I'd probably prefer to remove the law and the opportunity for judges to provide public examples through punishment.

Barring actual numbers I'd still prefer to have reasonable ways to reduce any bad influences on someone's capability to drive, including providing safe places to sleep for cheap or free in your car if you have to. Speaking of sleep!

My friend hasn't been

My friend hasn't been sentenced yet, however there are mandatory minimums to the sentence as I understand it, in GA. I live in Texas and am not familiar with what all the legal ramifications are here for getting a DUI. My main point was that my friend is being made a sacrificial lamb to the idea of being a deterrent to others drinking and driving.

I do not agree with the idea of making an example of some people who did not actually endanger anyone else in order to deter those that might. The idea underlying this is always that it would save lives, and that somehow those lives wrecked via technicality, brought it upon themselves for violating the letter of the law.

The problem is you do not know how many lives are wrecked, ruined, and ended by hit-and-runs that might have been saved had the driver of the offending vehicle reported the accident. People who have been drinking and get into an accident in which another person is badly injured have every incentive in the world (except for common decency) to flee the scene. Because even if it is not their fault, if they are over the legal limit they will be blamed for it, and if someone dies they will be charged with vehicular homicide -even if it can be proven that the accident was not their fault.

Quite often the investigation into the cause of the accident is stopped as soon as it is determined that a driver in the accident was "under the influence." For example 20/20 recently covered the story of a girl whose car ran off the road while she was driving, killing her best friend. Because she was drunk the accident was attributed to DUI. Because it was not clear why the girl ran off the road her parents decided to have the matter investigated to see if there might have been some mechanical failure or other mitigating factors.

The parents were harshly criticized and ostracized by friends because of this. One of the anchors of 20/20 told them that it did not matter if there was a mechanical failure because "she was drunk." The girl is serving 4 years for vehicular homicide, I think it does matter if it was her fault. If it turns out that she could not have prevented it then it would make a huge difference both to her, and for the public record that will follow her the rest of her life.

My point is this thousands die in hit-in-runs every year. Many deaths could be prevented if the "hitter" simply called an ambulance. If the hitter is under the influence then calling an ambulance will mean going to jail and being blamed even if the accident is not their fault.

Suppose you are a doctor, lawyer, or politician -someone's whose career will likely be ruined if you make that call even if you manage to win your case, even the most ethical person would have trouble with the possibility of throwing away years of hard work to get where they are, especially if they think the person is not likely to survive anyway. The harshness of the law is a double-edged sword, for all those uncounted lives saved there will be uncounted lives lost by the cold-calculations of people trying desperately to keep their lives from being ruined.

What was her BAL?

What was her BAL?