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Other Letters From America

Has Sir been Drinking??


I was recently pulled by the CHP, and asked if I had been drinking. I hadnít, but had a pleasant chat with the Officer about England (always works) and then I was on my way. But it made me realise that the couple of times I had driven after a pint or two, I did not really understand exactly what the Law here was.


Drink-Driving, or DUI (Driving Under the Influence) as it is referred to in the US, is taken very seriously, and quite rightly. This is so in the Southern Californian States. With over 90,000 arrests each year, the California Highway Patrol is considered to be the most aggressive anti-drink-driving enforcement agencies in the country. Most Patrol Cars are now equipped with sophisticated hand-held devices to determine intoxication levels very accurately.


In 1997 almost a thousand Californians were killed in alcohol related accidents, ten years earlier it was nearly treble that figure. Education, Tougher Laws, Penalties and Enforcement have mainly been responsible for this reduction.


The magic number here is 0.08% blood/alcohol concentration. This is the line between a pleasant evening having a couple of micro-brews and a legal drive home, and the illegal - which may very well end up with a trip to one or more of L.A.ís law establishments. A visit to one of L.A.ís jails is certainly not recommended for white, middle-class Americans, and is definitely not on the top ten list for visiting limeys, unless you wish to spend the night with Snoop Shaggy Dog-Dog and members of his Johnsons Talcum Powder Gang.!!


Like the UK, it is very difficult to say exactly how many beers constitutes 0.08%. It all depends on Body Weight, Metabolism, and how much and how recently you have eaten. Apparently, alcohol leaves the body at the agonisingly slow rate of 0.02% and hour. For my size and weight, it means that One Pint of a reasonable strength beer (~4%) would definitely mean that I was under the US and UK limit, a Second would probably mean I was closer to reaching the limit, and possibly, depending on circumstances, could take you over Ė both here, and in the UK.


A C.H.P. study on DUI offenders, shows that the typical first time DUI offender in California can expect to pay an average of $1,200 in Fines, plus up to $500 Towing and Impound Fees, plus a minimum of $3,500 in Legal Fees. If that isnít enough when, or if, you finally get your License back, and if you can find Insurance, it will cost you at least an extra $7,500 over the next three years, than you were paying previously. A grand total of at least $13k (£9k).

That Second or Third Pint could prove to be a very, very expensive drink.


Worst, there is the possibility of a 6 month Jail term. And thatís only if you get pulled on the way home. If you are involved in an Accident - add at least one Zero to the Costs, many years of hassle with Insurance companies, and increase the Jail Sentence!


A sobering thought, and one I always think of when tempted to go for a Third!!


Most people I know are responsible drinkers, and leave the car at home. If they canít do that, they nominate a driver for the night. Wherever you are in the worldÖ..


A word about Drinking and Driving Ė DONíT !!!!

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