But I was in Norwood and I don’t like driving the road home to Telluride at night, so I only had beer. Yes, you think you know the rest of my story, but unless you have been through it you don’t know the details and how it made me feel.
The car that had been following me turned on its flashing lights at the bottom of Norwood Hill. Colorado Highway Patrol. My first reaction was, what the heck, I wasn’t speeding, what did I do wrong? The office approached my truck as I turned on the dome lights, got out license, registration, proof of insurance and put my hands on top of the steering wheel. I did not think I was DUI, but I was scared. The officer said “hello, sir,” and asked me the dreaded question: “Have you been drinking?”
I answered yes, I had beer with dinner. He told me he had observed my driving and I had driven over the highway lines (yes, yellow or white) three times between Norwood and the top of the Norwood Hill.
As he could smell beer he said he had cause to ask me take a “quick” roadside test. If I refused the test, I would be placed under arrest and taken to jail. If I passed the test I could go on my way. Not much of an option, so I took the test. It was not quick. I don’t know why I flunked the eye test. He said I had six “tells” (where my eyes did not follow his finger smoothly) and that was enough for him to make me do the balance tests. I have lousy balance and also failed the heel-to-toe and stand-on-one-leg-and-raise-the-other.
I had the strange feeling that I was also being videotaped the entire time.
The officer then informed me that I was under arrest. I have tried the balance tests several times since: indoors, on a smooth rug, without drinking beer, not outside in the dark, standing on the sloped side of the highway with a cold wing blowing. I have yet to come close to doing them correctly, but I will be practicing.
Now I was scared. He gave me three more options: I could refuse further testing and go directly to jail, which would result in an automatic suspension of my license for one year, I could go for a ride to the jail and take a breath test, or I could take a ride to the medical center and take a blood test. I asked for details on the blood test and was told that it had the same reliability as the breath test; however, the results would not be back for up to two weeks. Meanwhile, I would be locked up until the results came back if I could not post bail.
I decided on a breath test.
I was frisked, handcuffed and placed into the very small seat in the back of the patrol car where the doors would not open from the inside. I was very scared.
On the ride to the San Miguel County Jail, I asked the officer some questions about the breath test and this is what I was told.
If I blew below a .05 I would be released and returned to my vehicle; .05 to .08 was considered driving while ability impaired (DWAI) which would mean being held in jail until sober, a mandatory court appearance and if guilty one or two days jail time and eight points added to whatever points were on my license, which I might lose; and .08 and above was driving under the influence, DUI which would mean being held in jail, a trail and if guilty five days jail time and 12 points and suspension of my driver’s license.
The officer further explained that a normal body would process around .025, one beer’s worth, of alcohol per hour.
He also said that most people who failed all three road side tests were DUI (.08) or above, and that most people lie when answering the question “have you been drinking?” Not knowing how my body was metabolizing the beer kept me in a very frightened state.
At the jail, into the sallyport, the garage door locks behind us, the patrol officer locks his gun in the trunk before opening my door and allowing me to step out of the patrol car.
A San Miguel sheriff’s officer tightly grips my arm, going to the receiving desk where the cuffs came off, hands on head, full frisking, all items out of my pockets, pockets inside out, shoes and socks off, a new form including what is your lawyer’s phone number, to be filled out with a short stubby pencil.
I asked if I can have a drink of water (my mouth was dry).
Can I go to the bathroom?
“No,” unless it’s urgent, which it wasn’t. I am more frightened than ever; this is for real.
More instructions. “We will observe you for 20 minutes,” I was told. “If you belch or put anything into your mouth, we will warn you and start another 20 minute observation period. If you put anything into you mouth again or belch again you will go to jail.”
Into the room with the dreaded machine. More questions (your middle name, social security number, date of birth) to correctly program the machine. More instructions: Take deep breaths, blowing long and steady until the buzzer shuts off.
I blow a .000.
I was relieved, to put it mildly. My body had metabolized my two beers in the two hours it had been since I left the restaurant. I had not lied to the officer. I must say that both officers were very polite and professional.
So why am I writing this? On the ride back to my car I asked the patrol officer how many of the cars that we were passing had drivers that either were DWAI or above? He said that “at any location in the United States, at any time of day or night, one in 10 drivers would be either be DWAI, DUI or driving while under the influence of drugs [DUID].” This seemed very high to me, so I asked Sheriff Bill Masters how many cars he would have to stop at 10 p.m. on a Friday night in San Miguel County to find a driver who was under some form of influence His answer was that he would only have to stop five cars (one out of five). However, he said that around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, he would have to stop just three cars to find one DUI.
I decided to tell my story as a public wakeup call, a reality check.
I know that many of the readers of my story consider themselves “safe social drinkers and drivers.”
I ask you, however, to stop and think about the real consequences before you have too many “social drinks” and then attempt to drive home. You may end up in a very “unsocial” place – it happened to me, it will happen to you if you drink and drive.
You may have an accident, and harm others – or you might not wake up at all.