By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Cherry lollipop? Check.
Eye patch? Check.
Bandage on knee? Check.
Loaf of bread open on the passenger seat, next to a half-empty bottle of Scope? Check.
Bag of groceries with disposable diapers on top? Check.
Driver's license, registration and proof of insurance within easy reach? Check.
Cell phone turned off and put away? Check.
Taillights, brake lights and turn signals working properly? Check.
You're now ready to head for the bar.
You won't be taking a taxi home tonight. A cab ride might cost only $25, but you'd have to pay again tomorrow morning to retrieve your car. That money is better spent on booze.
Sure, this is a gamble, but you're playing the odds. And with so many ill-prepared drunks on the roads, the odds are in your favor.
If this was Vegas, you'd empty your bank account to make this bet.
No one likes drunk drivers. They kill. They maim. They destroy lives.
But what is drunk? During the Nixon administration, the legal limit in most states was .15. Then it became .10. In July, Delaware became the 50th state to pass a .08 limit, which Arizona adopted six years ago.
"This .08 thing is a load of crap and it pisses me off," says Theodore Agnick, a Tempe defense attorney who specializes in DUI cases. "We don't want -- and I'm sure you don't want -- somebody who's hammered who's going to run into a wall out there. But these .08s? That's a regular person. Instead of patrolling at night looking for people who pose a risk to you and me, they're in front of a bar pulling people over right and left to generate numbers. It has nothing to do with making it safe."
Research backs Agnick. You may not be as good a driver at .08 as you are sober, but three academic studies have shown you're less dangerous than someone who talks on a cell phone while driving. There's scant evidence that .08 has lowered the highway death toll, which has remained essentially flat during the past decade. The General Accounting Office said so in a study refuting claims by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Even Candace Lightner, MADD founder who left the group in the 1980s, has told the media that the focus should be on .15 or higher.
In Arizona, you'll pay a higher fine for drunken driving than you will for running over someone on a bicycle, even if the cyclist dies. But the zealots aren't going away. Neither are local cops, who earn as much as $120,000 a year busting drunks, then racking up overtime in court and license revocation hearings. Just in time for the extension of bar hours to 2 a.m., the Phoenix Police Department has changed shifts for DUI officers, who arrested 3,425 drivers during the past year while working four days a week. Now, they're on the road five days a week.
It's easy to get pulled over. Police acknowledge that obeying every traffic law is virtually impossible. "Have you seen the state traffic code? It's that thick," says Detective Rob Krautheim, Chandler police spokesman. "I could probably get pulled over without knowing I did anything wrong."
So a drunk must learn to be careful out there. Hopping in your car, driving well and hoping for the best won't work. Educate yourself, realize what lies in store if you're pulled over, and be prepared.
You've chosen your watering hole carefully. It's just a few blocks from a series of subdivisions that, navigated properly, will get you most of the way home without venturing onto main drags that will soon be crawling with drunks and cops looking to pull them over. You've scouted the route, so you know which roads end up as cul-de-sacs and which take you toward your destination. At no point will you be driving more than two blocks on a main thoroughfare.
Sober and safe, you take the main roads to the bar. No guarantees where the cops will be at closing time, but it's a good idea to take note of where they are before your first cocktail.
The bar parking lot is half-full when you arrive, but you continue on to a nearby supermarket that's even closer to the side streets. You've heard too many hard-luck tales from drunks busted by cops who just happened to be outside the bar at closing time. Besides, the walk back to your car will do you good.
You note the time as you order your first drink. And it is a drink, not a beer or a glass of wine. Fermented beverages produce the strongest odor of alcohol. Briefly, you consider the merits of Crown Royal or Bombay, but you are disciplined.
You're sticking with Absolut. It's the flavorings in booze that make you smell like a distillery. Vodka, especially premium brands, provides the highest safety margin.
You know from studying blood-alcohol charts that a person your size should be able to have three drinks in the first hour without going over the legal limit. You also know the body burns off alcohol much slower than it absorbs it -- approximately one drink per hour will disappear from your system. You do the math in your head as you take your first sip. You plan on being here for three hours. The charts say you can have nine and still be comfortably below the .15 threshold that spells a mandatory 10 days in jail; there's always a chance you could lose this bet, so you should hedge a bit. You know the charts are only a rough guide. Your maximum tonight is eight. You ask the bartender to set you up a tab -- better to have two people counting than one.