A number of years ago, I was permitted to take part in a supervised alcohol-consumption exercise. The local RCMP detachment sponsored an evening of free alcoholic drinks for a select group to prove a point. For a driving instructor and high school teacher, it was an eye opener.
We were all given an initial breathalyzer test to prove we had not been consuming alcohol prior to the presentation. There were about a dozen of us, in similar professions. The police-provided bartender mixed the drinks and served us promptly. We were instructed to drink as much as we pleased, as fast or slow as we pleased, but to stop consuming when we thought we had reached the legal limit of .08.
I started slowly and continued to knock back the preferred rum and coke until I thought I was at the legal limit. I was then asked to blow into the breathalyzer. A qualified operator was there to record my blood-alcohol content. I blew .03. I was shocked; the police were not.
They had pegged me as an inexperienced and occasional drinker, so it came as no surprise that I had quit drinking at a relatively low level of impairment. Because I was the first to stop drinking, I got to observe the rest of the group. Most people stopped drinking at about the .05 to .08 level.
There was one guy who seemed to just keep going. He was like the Eveready bunny on booze. He eventually blew .15, about twice the legal limit. The strangest thing about his behaviour was the undeniable lack of visible traits that would indicate significant alcohol impairment.
The women who took part all quit drinking just about 10 to 15 minutes after I had ended my free booze experience. They all blew under the .08 limit.
The police who tested us were amazingly professional and experienced. They gave me a lateral finger test, which involved following the finger movement in front of my face, without turning my head. My eyes moved in a smooth left-to-right direction. Others tested the same way moved their eyes in several small stages when tracking the finger. This exercise denoted impairment to the constables administering the test. Without even being aware of the breathalyzer results, the resident impairment-expert constable was able to predict our blood-alcohol level within .02 either way.
This experience had a lifelong effect on me. I no longer believe people who tell me they had no idea they were criminally impaired by alcohol when stopped by the police in a roadside check. I have some sympathy for those who have had a few drinks and are relatively paranoid about being stopped in a roadside check. The .05 level of impairment, now the law in most jurisdictions, is easily reached by lightweight individuals.
I never drink any alcohol on a day when I may be driving. I decided many years ago that it conflicted with my chosen profession.
Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is a former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas and a certified B.C. teacher.
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