Driving while intoxicated: A few good reasons why not to do it

You are standing on the side of the road.  Shivering. Frightened.  Disoriented.  Cars whizzing by on the highway.   There you are for the whole world to see, silhouetted by the flashing lights of the patrol car in front of which you are standing.  Keep it together, you tell yourself.  Focus.  It’ll be okay. You can do it.

Not 5 minutes ago you were on your way home, after a relaxing hour with friends over some drinks, only seconds from your doorstep.  Now you are cheek to cheek with a Wyoming Highway patrolman, who has just finished shining a flashlight in your face.  Suddenly you understand what it feels like to be a deer paralyzed in the headlights.

The officer has just completed the first of several field sobriety tests, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, shining the flashlight in your eyes to check for premature jerkiness.

The officer is all business.  He asks you to listen carefully as he gives you instructions for the next field sobriety test, the walk and turn. He tells you to place one foot in front of the other and walk 9 paces forward on an imaginary line, then turn and walk 9 paces back, arms down at your sides.

You walk the line exactly as the officer has demonstrated, a little slowly perhaps, but steady, and you’re beginning to gain a sense of confidence.  This is all going to work out okay. In a few moments you’ll be on your way home.

The officer again tells you to listen carefully as he demonstrates the next field sobriety test, the one leg stand.  He tells you to stand with one foot on the ground, either foot, and to raise the other foot off the ground six inches, keeping your arms down. He then asks you to count to 30, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, and so on.

You tell the officer that even on a good day, fresh off of 8 hours sleep, you can’t really do this maneuver well.  He ignores your comment and asks you to begin.  You tell the officer that you have an old boxing injury which affects your equilibrium. He very patiently tells you to begin by raising one foot.

So you do it.   A little shaky maybe, a little wobbly, but you count to 30 with one foot in the air.  Just like the officer asked you.

The officer then asks you to recite the alphabet, slowly, without singing it.  Piece of cake, you think to yourself, and you begin to recite your ABCs, as you have a thousand times since you were a little kid.  Done.  Okay, you’re ready to go home now.

The officer then takes out a portable breathalyzer device.  He asks you to blow into it.  He tells you that if the breathalyzer registers between .00 and .05 you are free to drive home.  If it registers between .06 and .09, he will call you a cab.  If it registers .10 or more he will arrest you for driving under the influence.

So, with your whole life fluttering before your eyes, you take a deep breath and blow into the breathalyzer.  You wait an interminable moment or two, and then he holds the breathalyzer up to show you the digital display.  You feel yourself become slightly woozy as you stare in disbelief at the number on the display  –  .12.  Your heart is beating so loudly you barely hear the officer tell you that you are under arrest, as he begins to put handcuffs on you and put you in the patrol car.

What happens next?  After spending the night in the Teton County Jail. a person arrested for a DUI is usually released the next morning, after taking (and passing) another breathalyzer test.  A Court date is set a week or two down the road.   The ultimate outcome of the case may vary, depending upon any prior experience with the judicial system.  But assuming that there is no previous alcohol related driving offense, the Court generally imposes “first offender” terms, if you either plead guilty or are found guilty after a trial. The terms include a $570 fine and unsupervised probation for a year.

But that may be the easy part of this ordeal.  Notice of the DUI conviction is sent to the Wyoming Department of Transportation, which then suspends your license for 90 days.  If you have not had a prior DUI conviction in the last 5 years, you are eligible for a “hardship license”, which allows you to drive to and from work during the period of suspension.

And then there are the insurance issues.  Your insurance company may refuse to renew your policy when it expires.  At the very least, you can expect a hefty increase in the cost of your insurance premium during the next few years.

The vast majority of folks who are sentenced on a DUI conviction take the experience to heart.  They consciously choose not to put themselves, and others, in harm’s way again. The consequences for a second DUI conviction within 5 years include a mandatory 7 days in jail and a one year suspension of driving privileges.

Not to mention the incalculable toll in human misery, death and destruction which accompanies this insidious national disease of ours.

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