Meet Jane Doe. Jane is a 35-year-old, 5’6” female who weighs 150 pounds. An hour and a half ago, she went to a spontaneous happy hour to wish an officemate farewell. She’s now had two premium margaritas with little to no food in her stomach. Is she safe to drive home?
We all know that drinking and driving is a crime that injures and kills many people every year. In 2011, 111 people were killed by drunk drivers in Minnesota. Nine of those were in Olmsted County. For the safety of everyone we should plan ahead when drinking. But what happens when we don’t? Do we know when we are safe to drive? More importantly, what happens if we’re wrong?
The legal standard for Driving While Impaired (DWI) (a.k.a. Driving Under the Influence (DUI)) is .08. After two margaritas, Jane Doe is not falling down or slurring her speech. She is “just a little buzzed.” But what does that mean?
“Buzzed driving is drunk driving,” says Lt. Christina Krueger of the Minnesota State Patrol. “It is not just the ‘legal’ limit you need to be aware of, but if your judgment is impaired, and your driving behaviors show signs of impairment, you are a danger on the roadway and can be arrested for DWI. Buzzed is the point where impairment signs start to show, and judgment is impaired. She should not drive if people with her are—or if she is—questioning her impairment.”
Here are some signs that you (or your friends) might have passed the point of safe driving:
• Any changes in volume or elocution of speech (i.e., louder, sloppier—not necessarily slurred—words)
• Repetitive speech
• Swaying or stumbling upon standing, even slight differences in movements
• More than one regular-sized drink in an hour (this varies based on the rate at which an individual burns off alcohol and the amount consumed, and also the amount of food or water consumed.)
Test yourself: When a person is intoxicated, the eye muscles involuntarily twitch when put to a simple test. Have a friend hold her index finger up about 5–6 inches from your nose. Without moving your head, follow her finger with your eyes. Have her slowly move it across to the far left side of your face (to the point you can barely see it without moving your head) and then back to the middle and then over to the far right. If you have had too much to drink, your eye will involuntarily twitch when your eyes move to the far left and right. This is the first field sobriety test (called the horizontal gaze nystagmus test) law enforcement will run when you are pulled over.
Jane Doe decides to drive home.
She convinces herself she is fine and can take the back roads. Five minutes from her house, she looks in her rearview mirror and sees the lights of a patrol car signaling for her to pull over.
“We look for speed, weaving, swerving,” says Krueger. “If we stop them, we ask if they’ve been drinking. We watch for slurred speech, blood shot eyes, look for signs, and then we determine if we will ask them to get out of the car.”
Jane is now out of the car. What’s next?
Standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs): “The first test is the horizontal gaze nystagmus. … We move a finger across in front of person’s face, watch their eyes, and see if the eye bounces (like a windshield wiper) or follows the finger smoothly,” Krueger explains, noting that the eye bouncing is a sign of intoxication.
“The second test is the walk and turn. We have the person walk heel-to-toe on a line. The third test is the one-legged stand,” Krueger continues. “In this test, a person is asked to stand on their right or left leg and to hold the stand for a period of time.”
Jane fails the SFST s. What’s next?
A preliminary breath test is administered on the roadside. Although this test is not admissible in court, it is used as confirmation for the SFSTs, according to Krueger. If Jane refuses to take this test, that is a crime in and of itself.
Jane’s breath test indicates she is over .08 and she is placed under arrest.
Since Jane was arrested in Rochester, she is taken to the Adult Detention Center (ADC) on Fourth Street SE.
“She will be read the Implied Consent Advisory, asked if she would like to speak with a lawyer about testing and asked if she will take a second breath test,” Krueger explains.
In the state of Minnesota, if Jane refuses this second test, it is an additional violation to the original DWI charge. If Jane registers a .08 on this breath test and this her first DWI arrest, she will be charged with a fourth-degree DWI (each DWI arrest enhances the degree of the crime).
What about detox? Does Jane get a phone call like you see on TV? Could she be released?
“At an .08 she would not go to detox unless she was ill because of the alcohol,” explains Kreuger. “She would be able to make a phone call from the jail, and if this is her first DWI at a .08 she would be able to be released to a sober person once she has been fully booked in to the jail.”
Jane would be issued a citation for the level of DWI that she is charged with (3rd or 4th degree) which would include a court date. It is her responsibility to appear in court and plead guilty or not guilty to the charge.
So what will this bad decision cost Jane?
“The consequences for driving impaired will vary for each DWI offender,” according to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) website. “A typical penalty for a first-time offender is loss of license for a minimum of 30 days up to a year and possible jail time. Costs of DWI can be as high as $20,000 when factoring court costs, legal fees and increased insurance premiums.”
If this isn’t her first DWI or if she was over a .16, the penalties are more severe. For more information on the ramifications of DWI, visit dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/educational-materials/Documents/impaired-dwi-consequences.pdf.
The consequences don’t stop at court either. According to Ken Rosemark of C.O. Brown Insurance Agency, insurance premiums may significantly increase for about five years after you’re arrested for DWI. In some cases, if you have been charged with DWI, your insurance company may choose to cancel or not renew your insurance within 30 days.
Jane, of course, is lucky. No one was injured. The cost is only monetary…and maybe some pride.
“People who are in crashes don’t ‘think’ bad things are going to happen, and that is because alcohol impairs judgment,” Krueger emphasizes. “It takes one poor decision to change a life.”
SIGNS OF IMPAIRED DRIVING:
• Quick accelerating/de-accelerating/ inconsistent speed
• Weaving or swerving
• Not driving on road or hugging the white or yellow line
• Committing a moving violation such as running a stop sign or a no turn on red
•Failing to turn headlights on
Source: Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
ALTERNATIVE WAYS HOME
• A taxi from downtown to anywhere in town within 5 miles is approximately $15–$20 (charges start at $3.75 and increase $2.25 per mile)
• Yellow Cab, 282-2222
• Med City Taxi, 282-8294 or medcitytaxi.com
• Rochester Taxi Inc., 424-8294
• Auto Pilot: With Auto Pilot, you’re given a ride home and another driver drives your car home, for about the same price as a cab, 208-0879
• Smart Ride Eco-Taxi: These pedi-cabs, often seen around downtown Rochester in warmer months, may offer you an eco-friendly ride home if you live near downtown Rochester. You pay the amount you’re comfortable with for the ride, 398-8009
• Motorcycle Dial-A-Ride: This free program offers motorcycle drivers a ride home, while another driver drives your motorcycle home, 1-888-342-5743 or visit motorcycledialaride.org
• City buses: Check the Rochester Public Transit schedule and hours of service at rochesterbus.com
• Hotel shuttles: Several local hotels offer complimentary shuttles for their guests