If you are driving a vehicle with a blood alcohol level of more than .08 and are stopped by a law enforcement official in any state in the country, you will be arrested for driving under the influence. Aside from the embarrassment, indignities and possible loss of work, legal fees and fines can cost in excess of $10,000 and your auto insurance rates can double, triple or even quadruple — that is if you carrier doesn’t drop you.
Everything is much worse if somebody is injured in an accident and you are accused of driving under the influence of alcohol. In that case jail — for at least one night — is a certainty.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently recommended that all 50 states reduce the legal blood alcohol level for driving from the existing .08 to .05. The NTSB said that the current threshold is too high. It leaves some drivers still impaired by alcohol even though they are operating legally.
In you don’t think this is a serious issue in South Florida, think again. In 2011 Florida had more than 108,000 people with three or more DUI convictions, 13,000 with five or more and more than 700 people died because of a drunk driver in a single year.
Based on statistics from the NTSB, there are an estimated 85 million drunk driving trips per year, which translates to about 5,000 drunk drivers on South Florida roadways daily.
While I wholeheartedly support the NTSB’s effort to lower the allowed limit, it will be futile without an educational program as to what a blood alcohol level is and how it affects individuals. After all, how would you possibly know your blood alcohol level without testing with accurate measurement?
You can’t tell just by counting the number of drinks you’ve consumed. If you’ve ever been to the Cheesecake Factory you know the entrees are much larger than a single meal, often three times or more. The good news is that’s a great value and you aren’t endangering yourself or others by consuming it.
But take a look at mixed drinks at a bar or restaurant. It’s not uncommon for almost everything to be “super sized” in our culture, and alcohol is no different. How much goes into the Red Solo cup that you see at every backyard barbeque and does a Lite Beer impact you the same as a Sam Adams?
You have no idea how much alcohol is in a martini or other types of cocktails at any given place, moreover how the consumption of alcohol affects you. And of course, that puts you and others at risk if you get behind the wheel of a vehicle.
There is no question that South Florida is an alcohol/party-happy region, and I’m all for it. But let’s take a national leadership position and launch a campaign on two fronts to become the most responsible location in the nation.
First, individuals need to become better acquainted with blood alcohol level. This can be accomplished by making free, accurate testing devices available at the area’s top spots, South Beach, Las Olas, CityPlace and eventually all spots. While clubs and restaurants might object, they are required by law to serve responsibly and it’s better than being in the web of culpability for the injury or death of one or more of their patrons or an innocent bystander.
This can become a win-win situation for everyone if we combine this educational effort with an aggressive approach to driving options for those who are, or might be, impaired, including designated drivers, cabs and driver-on-demand services like mine. In fact, with an individual having knowledge of their impairment level and these driving options available, they would probably not hesitate to consume “one more.”
South Florida is known for some very dubious distinctions. Let’s be known as the region that tackled the drinking and driving issue. It is not that difficult to accomplish.
David Zwick is CEO of RedCap, a membership-based, premium driver-on-demand service.