DUI Do's and Don'ts

Michael Phelps, the Olympic gold-medallist made headlines this November when he was arrested for driving under the influence. The fact that Americans—even sports heroes and role models—continue to make this error in judgment demonstrates the pervasiveness of the problem. Sadly, with public awareness at an all-time high, drunk driving still claims thousands of lives each year.

In 2001 alone, 1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. That's one DUI arrest for every 137 licensed drivers in the United States. The statistic is even more sobering when you consider 41 percent or 17,419 of traffic fatalities recorded in 2002 were alcohol-related. Chances are most of us know someone who has either been arrested for drunk driving or has been injured or killed in an alcohol related crash.

By educating yourself, you can avoid becoming one of the statistics.

RULE #1: Don't do it. If you consume alcohol—even in small amounts—just don't drive. Consider the possible consequences when compared to a $40.00 cab ride. The fines in some cities and states for driving under the influence can exceed $10,000, to say nothing of its effect on your insurance.

Drunk driving is a misnomer.

The majority of DUI arrestees will tell you, "But I don't feel drunk." The fact is they probably don't. Most states have adopted the .08% Blood Alcohol Level (BAL or BAC in most states) as the measuring stick for DUI. It is defined as the amount of alcohol in your blood stream recorded in milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood. That is a very small amount of alcohol—so small that you may not feel any effect at all.

Your BAC has NOTHING...repeat, NOTHING to do with alcohol tolerance. Even if you can drink 4 martinis in two hours and only 'feel' a little tipsy, the truth is you were probably over the .08% level two martinis ago. Your alcohol tolerance rises and falls with the frequency of your drinking, but our BAC remains constant.

RULE #2: "But, I wasn't weaving." Guess what? It doesn't matter. You can be pulled over for a minor traffic violation like a cracked taillight and still be arrested for drunk driving. Officers can determine you were driving under the influence based solely on your performance during a field sobriety test. It doesn't matter if you were driving perfectly when you were pulled over. If the officer did happen to witness you weaving or displaying signs of impaired driving prior to the traffic stop, it only serves to strengthen his or her case against you after your arrest.

RULE #3: The Field Sobriety Tests.

Once an officer finds reason to detain you, he or she will most likely ask you to perform a voluntary Field Sobriety Test or FST. Contrary to popular belief, you will not be asked to recite the alphabet backwards or rub your stomach and pat your head while standing on one foot. But you will have to perform a number of simple tests designed to determine if your balance, coordination, and comprehension are impaired by alcohol.

RULE #4: Take a deep breath and blow, but only when you have to. There are typically two types of breath tests for a DUI: the one given before arrest and the one given after arrest. The pre-arrest test, sometimes called the Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) test, is typically administered once you have completed or have failed to complete a Field Sobriety Test.

Remember:You have the right to refuse this test. So, REFUSE THIS TEST.

Some of you might have heard that sticking metal in your mouth will fool the test. This is simply an urban legend. You can suck on batteries, stick a penny under your tongue, or lick all the tin foil you want. The test will still be accurate. So, if you've made a habit out of driving home from the local pub with a Duracell in your mouth, you should consider calling a taxi instead.

Now, the post-arrest test is a different story. In most states, such as California, you have a choice between submitting breath, blood or both. But you CANNOT refuse to give at least one. This test is mandatory and refusing to take it means an automatic license suspension. If you ever find yourself faced with this decision, choose the breath test over the blood. Why? Well, a breath test is open to various challenges in court. The state must prove that the machine was accurate, calibrated, and that you did nothing to affect the results like burp, hiccup, sneeze, or vomit. On the other hand, blood is hard evidence, sealed in a glass vial, tested by professionals, and rarely challengeable. So if in doubt blow, don't bleed.

Ultimately, however, the first rule is still the best: don't drive when you've been drinking. Any amount of alcohol will impair you in someway, even if just slightly, so why risk it? Your family, friends, and loved ones deserve and expect better of you. Plus taxi drivers need our support—especially around the holidays. In the end, it only takes a moment's worth of caution to avoid years of grief and regret.