How to drink and drive and get away with it

- and just in time for Labor Day weekend

You watch the baseball game, shoot pool with friends, flirt with the barmaid. Just before the kitchen closes, you order a basket of fries to help sop up your final drinks and slow their journey into your bloodstream. You also start drinking water. You don't want to risk the head-swimming effects of dehydration on top of an alcohol buzz. Every time you go to the rest room, you stand on one leg in the stall after relieving yourself, gauging your ability to keep your balance.

Over at the dartboard is a group of shit-faced drunks. They're loud, singing along with the jukebox, spilling drinks and stumbling as they walk from their table to the board. You don't know them, but they are your best friends as closing time approaches. You will make your escape just after they leave. If a cop is lurking outside, they can be the ones who get arrested, not you.

Finally, it is time to go.

Private investigator Chuck Laroue and attorney Jeffrey 
Siirtola explain the inner workings of the Intoxilyzer 
5000.
Jackie Mercandetti
Private investigator Chuck Laroue and attorney Jeffrey Siirtola explain the inner workings of the Intoxilyzer 5000.
Sergeant Joel Tranter with the phlebotomy chair used by 
Phoenix police. Fight a blood-alcohol test and they 
might just strap you down.
Jackie Mercandetti
Sergeant Joel Tranter with the phlebotomy chair used by Phoenix police. Fight a blood-alcohol test and they might just strap you down.

Instead of walking directly to your car, you go behind a building -- not the bar, which cops may be watching -- and practice field sobriety tests where no one can see you. This is the evening's first moment of truth. How well you do in these practice tests will determine how you'll respond if a cop pulls you over, or whether you'll even risk the drive home. You know these tests by heart, having included them in your daily exercise regimen.

Even though you're legally drunk, you easily stand on one leg for 30 seconds and walk heel-to-toe in a straight line for nine steps. Confidence buoyed, you head for your car.


Once at your car, you put a bandage over one knee. If you do poorly on a sobriety test, your lawyer can blame it on an injured leg. You comb your hair and tuck in your shirt. A police officer will note your appearance if he pulls you over, and disheveled is bad.

You have your eye patch ready to put in place. You don't want an officer examining your eyes, because nothing will prevent involuntary reflexes that signal drunkenness. If you've been smoking pot, start sucking on that lollipop -- a green or brown tongue is evidence of marijuana use, which is just as bad as drunken driving under Arizona law. Your bag of groceries in the back seat will serve as an alibi: "No, officer, I wasn't at a bar. I was just picking up a few things at the store."

You fasten your seat belt and prepare for departure. Are your headlights on? Treat the high-beam switch as if it's electrified. Under no circumstances will you use it.

With the cruise control set precisely at the speed limit, you have one less thing to worry about as you begin your journey. You will signal every turn, even though the streets are empty, and concentrate on keeping a straight line, which shouldn't be too difficult. You're not plastered -- if you are, you shouldn't be behind the wheel -- but you're certainly above the legal limit.

Oh, shit! A cop lights you up as soon as you turn onto Camelback Road, a favorite hunting ground for Phoenix police. How could this be? Knowing that cops key on drivers who make wide turns -- they learn in training that there's a 65 percent probability that a driver who turns wide is drunk -- you turned as close as possible to the edge of the roadway.

But you didn't come to a complete stop before crossing the sidewalk, as required by the state traffic code. Try to relax. The cop isn't going to automatically conclude you're drunk as he approaches your car. Smelling like booze doesn't mean your case is open and shut.

The officer will take note of things that seem trivial. Did you stop right away or did you continue for several blocks before surrendering? Not stopping as soon as possible is a sign of drunken driving, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

The officer will watch closely as you retrieve your license, registration and insurance card. He's looking for you to fumble around, maybe drop something, which is why you've put your paperwork within easy reach. While you're getting your license, the officer will ask you a question -- could be about the weather, could be about just about anything, including whether you've had anything to drink. Don't be caught off guard. The theory is, drunks can't focus on two things at once, so if you can't respond to his query while retrieving your papers, you may soon find yourself in handcuffs.

At some point, he's going to ask how much you've had to drink. The "couple beers" answer isn't going to play. Some free advice: "The minute the cop asks you if you've had anything to drink, at that point, he's gathering evidence against you," says Ed Loss, a Phoenix DUI attorney. "Shut the fuck up."

The officer will ask you to blow into a hand-held breath tester. Say no. The results aren't admissible in court because hand-held testers aren't considered reliable. But the cop isn't going to tell you that. He's relying on you to either follow directions from a police officer, like the good citizen you are, or assume that you'll automatically lose your license for a year if you refuse (which is true for tests required after the arrest is made). Blame your recalcitrance on a distrust of technology. Ask the officer how that doohickey works and whether you're required to submit. When he says you're not, politely decline.

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