Please Find a Ride Home This Weekend, Don't Drive Drunk
By: Contributors - Police Law News & Fuzzy Point of View
Posted: 12/31/2022 @ 11:00AM
We Own the Night
I spent over four years as a member of a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) unit while working for a large police agency (over 1000 officers). As part of this unit - nearly all I did was conduct drunk driving investigations and arrest impaired drivers. I took somewhere between 2000 and 3000 drunks off of the road and it was by far my most productive and enjoyable years in law enforcement. At its height the DWI unit I was part of had fourteen full-time officers - all making around 30 drunk driving arrests per month.
That is a lot of drunk driving arrests and a ton of work for defense attorneys. How many mansions did we help to fund for the defense bar? You can thank us later.
What is DUI?
DUI is “driving under the influence”. DWI is “driving while intoxicated”. They are exactly the same but different terms are used in different states to describe drunk driving crimes.
The Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) that a person must achieve to be considered legally “drunk” is .08. It can vary between individuals, but in general .08 is approximately four beers, still in your system, at the time of the test. The average person loses/eliminates approximately 2/3 of a beer every hour from their system. In order to reach .08 status, by the time you are down at a police station, a person usually has had to consume 6-8 beers to even reach the lowest level of “drunk”.
Every beer is approximately .02 that goes into your system. So, anyone who claims that they only had “2 beers” and got arrested for drunk driving - is lying.
Drunk driving is still a problem in the United States. Here’s why:
According to Law and Crime, drunk drivers kill 28 people every day in this country. That comes out to one death every 52 minutes. Therefore, this makes drunk driving a main cause of traffic fatalities.
In 2019, 10,142 people died in drunk driving related crashes. To put that into perspective - approximately 500 people die every year in shootings involving AR15s (and, many of those shootings are lawful and undisputed incidents of self-defense). But, which issue gets more attention from our politicians and the media? Is anyone advocating to ban alcohol or vehicles?
Just looking for intellectual consistency on public policy issues.
Consequences of Drunk Driving
You might kill someone.
Or. If you are caught and arrested before you crash into a family - a first time DWI offense is typically a misdemeanor. Usually, offenders are ordered to go through some kind of “first offender program” which consist of classes, AA meetings, victim impact panels, substance abuse counseling, random alcohol/drug tests, community service, and an interlock device installed on their car. But if the person complies with all of these things - there is no additional jail time. This is all very inconvenient and wastes a lot of time for the offender.
I am not suggesting that these programs are unsuccessful. They very well may be the best way to discourage future drunk driving incidents - which is the goal. I am just pointing out that unless you are a cop, politician, or drive as part of your employment - the consequences for a first time drunk driving conviction are not very steep. Well, your car insurance may also go up.
A Crime Everyone Commits
One of the most interesting sociological observations that I made while working as a DWI officer - is that - this is a crime that everyone commits. Sometimes in the same evening I would arrest a wealthy doctor and hook him/her up with the same set of handcuffs that recently were on a drunk driving homeless person who was “borrowing” a friend’s car.
Within a few year period, in my city, the list of people arrested for drunk driving included: TV news anchors, attorneys, police officers, high-ranking military veterans, business owners, a spine surgeon, and even a Judge who was serving on one of the highest courts in the state at the time of arrest. Also, a friend of mine arrested the reigning light heavyweight UFC champion. In contrast, approximately half of the people arrested for drunk driving are “indigent” and cannot afford to hire a private defense attorney and must rely on the services of the Public Defender’s Office.
My point - this is a crime that everyone commits. People at every income level, every political affiliation, every occupation, and every age.
I always thought that a was unique and interesting feature about this crime from a clinical standpoint. As there are not many serious violent crimes - that everyone commits on a regular basis.
No One is Above the Law
An unfortunate example of DWI being a crime that everyone commits.
Brandon Barber (who at the time was a police officer in Cuba, NM) caused a fatal DWI crash. On May 1, 2021 Mr. Barber drove drunk, crashed, and killed two people. The off-duty police officer had been drinking at Sandia Casino (just outside of Albuquerque, NM) when he drove the wrong way down interstate I-25 - while drunk out of his mind. He crashed into and killed 50-year-old Alfredo Escaname-Hernandez and 21-year-old Diego Arellano - who were driving the right way on the highway. (Body cam video of arrest).
Earlier this month Mr. Barber pleaded guilty to two counts of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, a third count of great bodily harm by vehicle while driving under the influence, and a fourth count to an open container being in his car at the time of the crash. He is facing up to 45 years in prison. Sentencing is in Feb 23’.
It’s the UBER, Stupid
I am the first to admit it. UBER, LYFT, and other rideshare companies have done more to lower drunk driving rates than anything I (and my old DWI team) could have done. There is always a place for enforcement - but (in my opinion) this problem has been reduced by a shift in the market. This is a good thing. Police leaders should employ policies to work with technology and private sector partners to solve these problems.
For example, when rideshare companies first started, in my city, they were not allowed to pass through the barricades and onto the main downtown stretch of bars. Making it less likely that drunk people would find/utilize them. This made no sense as everyone should want to encourage drunk people to utilize rideshare options. Now, ride-share drivers have a designated area to wait - that was established by police leaders.
This is an example of police officials partnering with private industry in a very practical way to reduce drunk driving incidents.
Today’s Drunk Driving Issues
*The following section was written by Fuzzy Point of View. Check out his other work.*
While "drugged driving" is not a new phenomenon, the expansion of legalization of marijuana throughout the United States has cast the problem into the spotlight. In 2018 more than 12 million Americans reported driving under the influence of marijuana or other illicit drugs. Keep in mind this is just the number of folks who dared to admit to driving under the influence of drugs, so the number is likely significantly higher. It is unlikely that the legalization of marijuana will substantially increase the number of people who choose to drive under the influence of marijuana, but legalization has introduced much more potent product offerings to the market; marijuana waxes have THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psycho-active component of marijuana) concentrations near 90%. Compare that to the "street weed" from the 2000s, which typically had a THC concentration below 10%, and you can see how the intoxicating effects of the products most use today may be exaggerated. While many of the signs of impairment caused by marijuana are similar to those found in drivers impaired by alcohol, proving such impairment in court can be infinitely more complex. Add to that the staggering amount of case law specific to alcohol and roadblocks in place for law enforcement officers' testimony on matters deemed "scientific" in nature. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has been certifying "Drug Recognition Experts" for decades, specifically to combat the issue of "drugged driving." Still, the need for officers certified in the detection and classification of these drivers will only increase as the legalization of marijuana spreads and the potency of the products increases. However, just as with drunk driving (and nearly every other problem we face as a society), our best defense is to educate our young people on the dangers and consequences of driving impaired isn't worth the risk. Additionally, transportation alternatives must be encouraged and expanded (e.g., ride-sharing and public transit). Here in New Mexico, we also need to stiffen the penalties for repeat offenders to help ensure safety on our roadways. Drug Impaired Driving number: https://www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/pdf/Drug-Impaired-Driving-Summary-Sheet-LD-508.pdf
Drunk driving deaths have decreased steadily in recent decades. In 1985 there were 18,125 DWI fatals. Now we hover just above 10k a year. This number has gone down every year - except in 2020 when it increased by about 1000 - likely pandemic-related. It is unknown if this decline is due to the education campaigns, first offender programs, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the threat of arrest, or the advent of ride-share companies. However, it is likely a combined effort and we should continue to smother this problem from all possible angles.
Working as a DWI officer is as satisfying as it is frustrating. This is because if you do a good job and take drunk drivers off the street - you are potentially preventing a horrific crash that kills an entire family, or taking enforcement action to prevent a crash that will never actually occur.
The only time a DWI officer gets to meet the people whose lives they saved are when those individuals are in handcuffs, in the back of a police cruiser, screaming and cursing, and pleading that they “almost made it home.” And yes, we can chalk that up to the fact that drunks are just plain assholes. But, even when sober, months later, instead of a “thank you” - the officer gets to deal with a pain-in -the-ass attorney asking questions about grams of alcohol per liters of breath and the research studies behind Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. And since DWI cops work at night, and court hearings are during the day, this is all usually while on 2 hours of sleep and hopped up on energy drinks - just hoping that you can get home in time to get a few hours of rest before putting the blue suit back on to play "cat and mouse" with drunk drivers.
Happy New Year…. stay safe. have fun. drink beer. get a sober driver….always…