He Shouldn’t Have Been Driving. He Should Have Been Dead.

alcohol poisoning can kill driverPortland, Oregon police recently arrested a man for driving with an almost impossible amount of alcohol in his bloodstream. The man drove across a number of lanes, stopping near an intersection in Northeast Portland, where he was found collapsed in the car.

His blood alcohol concentration was .057, or more than 7 times the legal limit.

This event bears some scrutiny. Alcohol is, as you might know, a poison if taken in large enough amounts. In fact, alcohol poisoning is far from rare. Here’s a rundown on what a given amount of alcohol can do to a person:

  • .03 – 05: BAC — A nice buzz, also known as mild impairment. Concentration and attention not that great
  • .06 – 15 BAC — Drunk. This is serious impairment. Your vision and hearing are not working well, and your balance and coordination are off. Worse, your judgement is impaired, meaning you’re likely to make bad decisions like calling your ex and begging for a second chance, or driving
  • .16 – .3 BAC — Very drunk. Also known as severe intoxication. You’re likely to vomit and experience a blackout. Many states call this “super drunk” and impose extra DUI penalties if the person caught has this high a BAC
  • .31 – .45 — In danger. At this point a person’s life is threatened, because body just can’t handle the basics anymore. Breathing can stop, and one can lapse into a coma. This is the alcohol poisoning that parents fear when their kids go off to college

The driver in question had a blood alcohol level far in excess of the danger level, but somehow he survived. We’re happy for that. However, this event brings up a few issues:

  • The man’s license was revoked. Clearly, a revoked license was not enough to keep him from driving drunk. In fact, research shows that license suspensions generally don’t work – they’re violated regularly, which, in the case of repeat drunk drivers, can be dangerous to society. For this reason the ignition interlock was invented. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Had an ignition interlock been installed, the incident would have been prevented.
  • Alcohol is tricky stuff. When you get enough in your system, all judgement and inhibition go out the window, and you’re unlikely to realize that driving is a bad idea. So the very substance that makes you a dangerous driver makes you unable to see that you’re a dangerous driver. That’s another argument for ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders and for refusal of BAC tests.
  • License suspensions don’t work nearly as well as alcohol does. Ignition interlocks are needed to prevent drunk driving recidivism.

Our Portland driver returned from the dead. A lot of drunk drivers and their victims are not so lucky – about 10,000 each year in all. Let’s make laws that seek to lower the number of unlucky ones across the country.