FONTANA — On assignment for the Regional News, I was out drinking Friday night.
I wasn’t driving, though. My boyfriend was acting designated driver, and I had coordinated with the Fontana Police Department to do field sobriety testing.
After drinking 10 mixed drinks in less than 3 hours, I felt drunk. My boyfriend, two coworkers and two police officers said I looked drunk.
But after I passed three field sobriety tests, a Breathalyzer said I wasn’t close to the legal limit.
Fontana Police Officer Derrick Goetsch said if he had pulled me over under suspicion of drunken driving, he would have had to release me.
All parts of the experiment were as close to a suspected drunken driving case as possible, except for the driving.
According to the Wisconsin DOT, the state has the highest rate of drunken driving in the nation. In 2010, there were at least 44,000 convictions for drunken driving in Wisconsin, and 45 percent of fatal traffic crashes in 2009 were alcohol-related.
I didn’t want to be one of those in 2013.
Field sobriety tests
Despite an outbreak of unsuppressed giggles, I passed three field sobriety tests.
First, I completed the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. In this test, Goetsch explained, a police officer is looking for jerkiness when the subject’s eyes are to the far left and right.
During this test, I felt like the pen was moving. I couldn’t feel my eyes moving, but Goetsch said my pupils would jerk left and right when I was focused on a pen in front of my shoulder.
Goetsch said he saw two clues to my drunken state during this test.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the officer needs to identify four clues in the eye test to suspect a BAC of 0.08, the legal limit.
Next, I had to do the walk and turn test. Goetsch explained all the rules and then asked me to start.
Halfway through, I forgot his instructions and asked a question. Goetsch said, “Complete the test like instructed.”
He refused to answer my question. Part of the test is to remember the instructions of the test.
My ad-libbing worked. I technically passed the test, though I was unable to maintain my balance while listening to Goetsch.
He found one clue during this test, and the NHTSA states that an officer needs to find two clues to suspect drunk driving.
Finally, I did the one leg stand test. This is when I thought the whole world was funny and could not stop laughing.
Goetsch later told me I did really well on this test and only swayed once when I was finishing the test.
The NHTSA states officers must find two clues during the one leg stand test.
Overall, Goetsch said he saw four clues to my drunken state during the tests, and he also noticed my glassy eyes and could smell alcohol on my breath.
The NHTSA has found that 91 percent of suspected drunken drivers who complete these three tests are above the legal limit for driving.
Preliminary breath test
The preliminary breath test is not admissible in court, but it gives an arresting officer another clue toward a subject’s intoxication.
When Goetsch completed the first breath test, the Breathalyzer registered 0.
Apparently I had beat the system. I had drank 10 mixed drinks and wasn’t impaired at all.
Fortunately, the field sobriety tests and Goetsch’s experience with drunken drivers had a different result.
With another Breathalyzer, my intoxication was at 0.02. That’s barely intoxicated at all.
Goetsch questioned how strong the drinks had been at at the bar. He said after 10 drinks, someone of my size should be well-past the legal limit to drive.
Then I completed an intoximeter test. The intoximeter results are admissible in court because the system is kept in a climate-controlled room and is calibrated every three months. I gave two breath samples into the intoximeter — 0.022 and 0.020. The system reported my level of intoxication at 0.02 grams of alcohol per two hundred and 10 liters of breath. According to research at Princeton University, the intoximeter results mean my blood alcohol content was 0.02 percent.
Before I went out drinking in Fontana, I did a quick Internet search — “how to pass field sobriety tests.”
There are a few websites listing ways to pass the tests, many from lawyers who will bring a drunken driving case to court.
The real way to pass a field sobriety test is to not drink and drive.
I may not have been legally drunk, but I wouldn’t have let myself drive. Walking from the bar to the police station, I was wobbly. I couldn’t see very well. I was both chilly and too warm at the same time. I thought I was going to be over the legal limit.
“Wisconsin recently strengthened its impaired driving laws to include mandatory installation of ignition interlock devices on all vehicles owned by anyone convicted of first offense operating while intoxicated with an alcohol content of 0.15 or higher,” the DOT website states.
The DOT has a mobile phone app that calculates an estimated blood alcohol level. The app estimated my blood alcohol level at 0.204. There’s a warning on the app that says it’s an estimation, but that estimate is much closer to how I felt than the results on the Breathalyzer and intoximeter.
The app can also look up local mass transit routes and cab companies when a designated driver is not available.
I don’t drink that often, and except for a news story, I definitely don’t drink 10 drinks in three hours. I have a family history that includes alcoholism, and I know how easy it is to become addicted to alcohol.
When I was younger, I attended a few Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Those meetings opened my eyes to how alcohol can affect people of different economic situations, family status and age.
As of January 2013, AA had more than 1.2 million members in the U.S., according to its website. Its members are teachers, construction workers, lawyers, chefs and reporters.
For information about Walworth County AA groups, visit http://bit.ly/184HqZ5.