Wednesday, March 28, 2007

0.093 has been on my mind for days. The number shouldn’t matter. You’ve either had too much to drink or you haven’t. It’s below the Mendoza line but it’s the circumstances that bother me about the 0.093

The Tony La Russa drunk driving arrest at spring training is just sad. Officers found him asleep at the wheel of his SUV, foot on the brake of his stalled car, at an intersection. When he finally wakened, Mr. La Russa was cooperative for his field sobriety test, blew a 0.093, had his license confiscated and spent the night in jail on the misdemeanor charge.

It’s just that the number does not do the crime justice. There isn’t a real number that defines dangerous, but we know dangerous when we see it…or do we.

The law says that you cannot drive a car with a blood alcohol concentration greater than 0.08 mg/dL, except, that is, if you’re driving a commercial truck, then the BAC is 0.04 or if you’re a pilot, it’s zero. Being legally intoxicated means adding an action verb to spell out what you want to do. There is no legal intoxication level for walking, though we know that people who drink and walk are at higher risk of getting hit by a car. No legal level for most jobs, though workplace ethics and codes prescribed absolute sobriety for many jobs. The law also allows people to be arrested if they are impaired, even if they blow below 0.08. The law understands that different people handle alcohol in different ways and that impairment is a physiologic issue and not a mathematic one.

If we could generalize, we could say that one drink equivalent (1 beer=4 oz of wine=1 oz hard alcohol) raised your blood alcohol level by 0.02 and one drink equivalent was cleared from your body every hour. That means to get above 0.08; someone would need to drink 5 beers in an hour, or 2 beers per hour for 4 hours.

This brings me back to 0.093. You make a decision to go out to dinner, for drinks and to visit friends. You also make the decision to drive. When you become too intoxicated to drive, you made that decision one drink at a time, every time the waiter or your host came around. And each time, you knew that you were going to drive home. Each time you made a positive decision to act. Each individual decision that could lead to a lethal act. A premeditated act that injures and kills thousands of innocents each year.

Intoxicated, falling asleep at an intersection, saved from lurching forward into oncoming traffic and perhaps hitting a school bus filled with kids, only by the grace of God. Somehow 0.093 should seem more important than just a misdemeanor.

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