Can You Really Drive with a Blood Alcohol Level of .4? Someone in New York State Sure Did.

A blood alcohol level of .4 is insanely dangerousFor many drivers, especially moderate or non-drinkers, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) numbers on warning signs are a bit mysterious. What is .08 anyway? And how many drinks is that? And if you are over the limit by a factor of five, could you still drive?

The answer to the last question is, “Someone tried to.” A man in Sullivan County, New York was arrested after driving his car into a ditch. His BAC was .4, exactly 500 percent of the legal limit.

Simply put, alcohol dissolves pretty evenly in one’s blood. Very quickly after you take a drink, alcohol enters your bloodstream. One bottle of beer will raise one’s BAC to about .02 in under an hour. Obviously other factors are involved: your weight, age, sex, and individual tolerance for alcohol. But generally speaking, four beers and you’ll eventually hurdle the .08 limit, and which judgment, vision, hearing, and coordination are generally too compromised for safe driving.

How Blood Alcohol Level Affects Driving Ability

  • .02: Relaxation, loss of inhibition.
  • .05: Mild euphoria, more intense emotion, and decreased caution (drivers take note!)
  • .08: Vision, reaction time, hearing, coordination, and judgment are all weakened. You are legally drunk and not allowed by law to drive
  • .15: Drunkenness obvious to anyone. Words are slurred, walking is difficult. This is your comic drunk.
  • .2: Confusion, nausea, and considerable difficulty walking or standing.
  • .3: Tendency to fall into a daze or stupor. This is the drunk you have to drag to their feet and help out the door.
  • .4: Lethal drunkenness. This person belongs in a hospital in case of respiratory failure or coma.

So, how did a person with an .4 level manage to get into a car and drive away? Most people couldn’t. But the fact remains that one did, and the question to ask is, “Who let this person drive?” At a blood alcohol level like that, a person is incapable of making a responsible decision.

As it happens, the driver in this case did not have a license. It’s fairly easy to conclude that drinking was at the root of the suspension. In that case, an ignition interlock, which prevents one from driving until a breath test has been passed, would have prevented the incident.

One hopes, for the sake of everyone on Sullivan County roads, that an ignition interlock is in this man’s future.

Wisconsin Has Cut Drunk Driving Deaths by Half. Here’s How to Cut Them Further.

Wisconsin -has-cut-drunk-driving-deaths-by-half-using-law-enforcementThere’s been some good news from the Wisconsin DOT. Since 2004, the state has cut drunk driving deaths by half, from 326 to 162. That’s a very impressive reduction, and it was no accident.  The credit goes to the state for organizing a set of practices that have gradually brought down the numbers by taking drunk drivers off the roads and discouraging others from getting behind the wheel while impaired:

  • OWI task forces.  Police have engaged in coordinated efforts to “blitz” an area and pick up impaired drivers.
  • Education campaigns. A lot of time and money has been spent getting out the message that drunk driving kills, and that “buzzed driving” is really nothing more than drunk driving.
  • More available rides. The past ten years has seen the rise of Uber and other rideshare services, as well as the Tavern League’s Safe Ride program. The knowledge that a safe way home from the bar is accessible via smartphone has made a difference in the drunk driving landscape.

Needed: A Better Ignition Interlock Law

Education and enforcement are two of the pillars of a sound anti-impaired driving policy, and both have clearly been working in Wisconsin. But getting those numbers down further will not be easy. It’s doubtful the next ten years will see another 50 percent reduction unless something new is added: an all-offender ignition interlock law.

Wisconsin-could-cut-drunk-driving-deaths-more-with-ignition-interlockAn ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Currently 25 states require every convicted drunk driver to install an ignition interlock in his or her vehicle. Those states typically see a dramatic downturn in alcohol-related road deaths, sometimes as much as 30 or 40 percent.

Because an ignition interlock takes a drunk driver off the road completely, it is the only solution with a guaranteed, measurable effect on OWI collision statistics. Currently Wisconsin requires interlock devices for repeat offenders and those who are arrested driving with an extremely high blood alcohol concentration (BAC).  However, a 2012 report by the National Transportation Safety Board notes:

Arizona and Oregon have experienced over 50 percent DUI fatality reductions since passing all-offender interlock laws, and other states have also seen declines when compared to the states that use only interlocks to address high-BAC offenders.

Wisconsin deserves congratulations for its efforts reducing OWI fatalities. It has done everything it can – short of mandating ignition interlocks for all offenders. That last step, the third pillar in a complete anti-drunk driving strategy, would save even more lives on Wisconsin’s roads and streets.

Could Ohio Finally Pass Annie’s Law and Require Interlocks for All OVI Offenders?

Perhaps pressure is mounting because more states are considering requiring ignition interlocks for first OVI offenders. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Annie Rooney of Annie's Law, mandating ignition interlocks for all OVI offenses

Annie Rooney

In Ohio, such a bill was debated in the Ohio legislature last December. Named Annie’s Law, after Annie Rooney, a lawyer who was killed by a drunk driver in Chillicothe.

The bill died, but it might be revived again. Sponsors are now working on a new version of the bill.

Why all offenders? An ignition interlock is an unusual kind of measure to require after a drunk driving offense. It is preventative, not punitive. By preventing a vehicle from starting if the driver fails a breath test, it effectively takes a drunk driver off the road.

There are three factions who tend to resist the idea of ignition interlocks for first OVI offenders:

  1. Those who feel it is too severe a punishment for first offenders who, after all, have just made one mistake. In fact, statistics show that by the time of his or her first arrest, a driver has driving drunk about 80 times.
  2. Those who feel it is not severe enough. Some citizens and legislators feel that letting a driver get back behind the wheel just weeks after a drunk driving conviction is too easy; their license should be suspended for a long period instead. The problem is that suspensions don’t work. More than half of drivers with suspended licenses ignore the suspension, sometimes multiple times. And that puts an uninsured and possibly impaired driver back on the road
  3. The liquor and restaurant lobby. Organizations charged with increasing the profits of distilleries, breweries, wineries and chain restaurants will fight any restrictions on alcohol use.

States that have passed laws like Annie’s Law have seen dramatic downturns in impaired driving collisions and deaths.

Currently, half the states in the country mandate ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers, with Texas the latest addition to the list. It would be a feather in Ohio’s cap for the legislature to pass Annie’s Law and become the 26th state to protect its citizens so thoroughly on its roads and streets.

New Location: Finishline Installations of Moses Lake Washington

FinishlineInstallationsLogoWhy wait around? If you need a car breathalyzer and you’re in Moses Lake Washington, come to the ignition interlock experts: Finishline Installations. They’re known for speedy, efficient service. And now they’re part of the LifeSafer family of ignition interlock providers.

Finishline-installations-LifeSaferFinishline technicians will install your interlock device, train you in its use, answer all your questions, and perform speedy and efficient monitoring and calibration. They’ll have you back behind the wheel in no time, driving legally and safely with a new LifeSafer ignition interlock.

Need an ignition interlock in Moses Lake? Go here for more information and to view a map, or call 800-328-9890 to book your appointment now.

Your Hump-Day Recess: DUIs Crash Fine Vintage Cars — Now That Really Hurts!

vintage pontiac hit by dui

A 1935 Pontiac deserves better than a DUI crash.

For years now, the LifeSafer blog has covered the many terrible effects that stem from drunk driving: death, injury, imprisonment, expense, unemployment, and more. There’s no doubt that impaired driving is a miserable thing to do yourself and your loved ones.

But what about the poor cars? Can we give them a thought today?

Recently, two drunk drivers in two different countries did what car lovers would consider beyond the pale: they crashed fine vintage cars as a result of drunk driving.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma Johnny Leon Taylor crashed his perfectly lovely 1935 Pontiac into a taxi while driving under the influence. And in London, Oliver Horsnall piloted his vintage Triumph Vitesse, a 1960s sports car, into a Ford Focus.

man drunk driving vintage triumph crashes

So does this old Triumph.

In a logical world, this would be no more of an outrage than any of the other drunk driving incidents that happen every day – thousands of them, despite constant reminders in both countries not to mix drinking and driving.

However, our world is emotional as well as logical, and when we see gorgeous specimens of automotive art get squished because someone has made a decision universally known to be stupid – Taylor even admitted that he was “being stupid” – it somehow seems even more pathetic.

How can a car survive 80 years, only to get banged up by a drunk driver?

In the real world, we fight drunk driving because of the dangers it poses to life and limb, and because it causes untold suffering to the families of offenders and victims. That alone should be enough to want to strengthen laws and stay vigilant.

But those cars… you have to admit, that hurts. So don’t drink and drive. The car you save may be really, really cool.

Another DUI Smartphone App Hits the Market. Does This One Encourage Drunk Driving?

Does a DUI smartphone app make drunk driving a bit to easy?One tech industry growth area seems to be the DUI smartphone app. A quick search of Google’s Play Store reveals no less than a hundred of them. A few are joke apps, a number are attached to breathalyzers that plug into one’s phone, but a great many of them are there to help you if you find yourself arrested for DUI.

What can a DUI smartphone app do for an alleged drunk driver? One of the most recent apps to appear, called DueyDialer, gives its purpose as “legal representation for DUI.” You open the app, click a button, and are connected to a lawyer. If you don’t have a lawyer, the app will choose one for you.

Apart from finding an attorney, DueyDialer (and a number of similar apps) records what goes on in your vehicle so that the lawyer, and presumably the court, have a record of the arrest.

Not everyone who has heard about the app is delighted. In New York, according to news reports, some attorneys worry that the recording could work against their clients.

For others, such apps possess an “ick-factor” because they seem to be encouraging or excusing drunk driving, though the app’s makers state that this is not the case. DueyDialer is described in interviews as a marketing tool for lawyers, who sign up to be contacted when someone in their state is in trouble.

Drunk driving has been a fertile area for smartphone programmers for years now. It was back in 2011 that Apple banned DUI checkpoint finder apps from its store. Google, however, has no problem with them. The apps stay on this side of the law, since police are required to announce sobriety checkpoint locations before setting them up anyway. Yet the stigma remains: there’s a difference between announcing a DUI checkpoint beforehand to satisfy the law, and warning drivers that they will be stopped if they don’t turn back now?

Whatever you think of DUI smartphone apps and checkpoint warnings, one question needs to be asked: why are alleged drunk drivers the only one to get such a resource? The most common crimes in the US are larceny/theft, burglary, vehicle theft, assault, and robbery. Yet there aren’t any specific apps for people accused of embezzlement or forgery. You can’t tap an app if you’ve been hauled in for stealing a Camry. There’s no “Whoops, I Was Arrested Breaking Into a House and Making Off With a Laptop” application to get you out of trouble. Drunk Driving is the only crime with its own suite of software to ease alleged offenders’ legal burden.

The reason might be that there is an enduring contingent of people who are suspicious of those who pursue drunk drivers, whether they be police, the courts, or safety organizations. Those who object to anti-DUI efforts consider them all either a racket designed to collect money or evidence of the erosion of constitutional rights. And that’s at the heart of the controversy: deep down, too many people believe that drunk driving is a constitutional right, or somehow connected to one. These people need to understand that drunk driving is a dangerous crime, and a totally preventable one. It’s a message that doesn’t always get through and unfortunately, there’s no app for that.

Study: State Alcohol Laws Affect Drunk Driving Rates

Alcohol laws help discourage drunk drivingThe states have been working hard to fight drunk driving for decades now: the 1970s were when anti-drunk driving campaigning started in earnest. And there’s no doubt that those awareness campaigns have been successful in discouraging drunk driving in this country.

But once everyone is aware that impaired driving is a bad idea, what next? What works to keep bringing down those DUI numbers?

The answer appears to be states’ alcohol policies. A recent study by the Boston University schools of public health and medicine and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health indicates that rates of drunk driving are likely to decline as a state’s alcohol policy toughens up.

According to the report, state governments have two ways to bring down the number of DUI offenses:

  • Drinking-oriented policies: measures to curtail binge drinking, which has a high correlation with drunk driving, as well as alcohol taxation, regulation of production, and restriction of alcohol sales.
  • Driving-oriented policies: measures to combat the crime of drunk driving itself. These can include ignition interlocks, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, as well as sobriety checkpoints.

The findings of the study: both methods are needed to discourage impaired driving. In brief, alcohol restrictions discourage people from getting drunk, and driving restrictions discourage them from driving while drunk.

Like many such findings, this one seems obvious now that it’s out in the world. But in fact, legislators do not always agree on the best way to fight drunk driving, and there is a reason that many states get a failing grade in MADD’s ratings for anti-DUI efforts.

Some states do not suspend licenses automatically upon arrest for DUI. Half the country still does not mandate ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders.  And policies are scattered in matters such as breath test refusal.

As we have said before, there is no magic bullet that will end drunk driving. Among the things we know work in part are drunk driving awareness campaigns, ignition interlocks, sobriety courts, and, thanks to this research, thorough and sensible alcohol laws to discourage excessive drinking in general.

A California Citizen’s Arrest and What It Says About Drunk Driving Today

A small news item that reveals a larger trend: a few nights ago a driver crashed his vehicle into two parked cars just after midnight. He tried to flee the scene afterwards, but a group of residents confronted him and held him until police could arrive.

Witnesses held a drunk driving suspect until police could arrest himAccord to police reports, the man was very drunk.

The circumstances are neither unique nor particularly dramatic: drunk driver tries to get away after a crash and fails. But the incident does show a change that has occurred in the minds of the public.

Even though the man injured no one, the witnesses were determined that he be arrested for his crime. It obviously wasn’t the property damage to the cars that made them act. Had they just been concerned about fenders and headlights, they could have taken down the driver’s license number or compelled him to write down his details for the owners of the cars.

No, it was the fact that he was driving drunk that made an arrest necessary. They wanted the man off the road. For years now organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the Ad Council have been spreading the word about the lethal nature of drunk driving. What was once seen as a reckless and unfortunate habit is now recognize as a crime.

It’s hard now to imagine a time when drunk drivers were driving home by cops and told to sleep it off; when there were few laws against impaired driving; and when people who were killed by drunk drivers were just considered “unlucky,” as if they’d been, say, struck by lightning.

Times have changed, and the good people of National City saw the scene that night for what it was: a man engaged in a crime who was about to get away and endanger lives. He needed to be stopped, and they knew it.

In an earlier age, onlookers would have shaken their heads, and perhaps the most public-spirited of them would have taken down a license number as the man sped off to his next collision. Last week the driver was taken out of action. That’ s progress.

New Location: Tri-County Automotive of Montrose Colorado

lifesafer-tri-county-automotive-of-montrose-coloradoFor more than 15 years, Tri-County Automotive of Montrose Colorado has been offering top-flight automotive service to customers. Now LifeSafer welcomes Tri-County Automotive to our family of ignition interlock service specialists.

Come to Tri County to have your LifeSafer ignition interlock installed, serviced and calibrated. Their friendly staff will take excellent care of you.

For more information about Tri-County Automotive go here, or call 888-855-0630 to book your appointment now.

Your Hump-Day Recess: Stevie Wonder on Drunk Driving

Stevie Wonder ad against drunk driving

(click to enlarge)

Stevie Wonder, who has sold more than 100 million albums and singles, and who is on every top-ten list of pop artists, has always been an inspiring figure. Despite the temptations of stardom, he’s stood for decency and integrity, and has shown a refreshing lack of poor judgment all his life. As such, Stevie is a natural choice as a spokesman for a public service ad. But Stevie Wonder on Drunk Driving? The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board thought it was a great idea, and the artists agreed.

The result is this memorable ad.

As a bonus, here’s a 1985 Ad Council PSA featuring a catchy jingle written and performed by Stevie Wonder. Interestingly, the world of drunk driving PSAs has a number of slogans that we remember — think of “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” — but it’s hard to recall another jingle. It’s doubtful anyone with as much talent as this man has written any. Paging Tom Waits.


Your Hump Day Recess: Every Wednesday LifeSafer brings you something a little different, related to the worlds of road safety, to ease your progress over Hump Day and through the week.
Previous Hump Days: a German Ignition Interlock spoof from 1960, our Top 10 Worst Crash Tests, a different kind of Anti-DUI message, Budweiser’s dogged anti-DUI campaign, How Not to Dodge a Parking Ticket, the world’s worst traffic jams, a dramatic buzzed driving PSA , an offbeat ad from New Zealand, the world’s worst car modification, Vince and Larry, our favorite crash test dummies, a karaoke microphone breathalyzer, extraterrestrial advice on drunk driving, some excellent Soviet anti-drunk-driving posters. a lesson on how buzzed driving can ruin your love life, South Australia to Drunk Drivers: Grow Up!, a woman calls 911 to report herself for DUI, and Felix the Cat and Drunk Driving.