By Jordan W. Charness
One of them looked stunned and the other one looked worried. Although they arrived at the Police Operation Centre about 10 minutes apart they both seemed to shiver when the door clanked shut behind them. I had spent the early morning hours in the company of Sgt. McGrath of the MUC police force watching them set up and operate a roadblock to catch drunk drivers.
Although they caught four or five drivers who had failed the portable breathalyser test, I decided to watch what happened to just two of them. The first was a young woman who was about 20 years of age. When she was pulled over she admitted that she had just come from a local bar where she had a few beers. She failed the portable breathalyser test and was brought in to face the real breathalyser machine.
Only the machine operated by licensed technicians at the Operation Centre is admissible as evidence in court. The roadside Breathalyser test is only useful in that it can give the police the grounds they require to detain you and take you down to the police station.
The other detainee was a gentleman who looked to be about 25 years old. It later turned out that he was a well preserved 37 year old. He seemed to be truly out of it and I was pretty sure that his blood alcohol content would be extremely high. Little did I know.
The booking procedure was pretty much the same for the two of them. Although they were treated separately about 20 minutes apart they were each required to empty their pockets and take off all their jewellery as well as their belts and shoe laces. They were then frisked to be sure that they were not carrying any hidden weapons. Naturally a woman police officer searched the young lady and a male cop searched the guy. They were given a receipt for whatever items they handed in.
They were then taken into a holding area to await testing in the breathalyser centre. I spoke with the police officer in charge of giving the breathalyser test. In order to qualify as this type of technician the officer must pass a detailed course and prove his/her proficiency and understanding of the machine. There are only a few machines that are legal for this purpose and the technician must be rated for the machine in use.
The procedure is not that difficult and is fully explained to the accused so that he or she clearly understands what is about to happen. A brand-new mouth-piece is taken out of a sealed package and attached to a special tube. The tube itself is heated to 34 degrees Celsius so that it is about body temperature. In this way your breath remains intact without being subject to temperature changes. The police officer holds the tube and the accused is told to blow until the technician tells him to stop. There is some resistance from the machine so you have to blow pretty hard in order to get an accurate reading. If you don’t blow properly the machine will tell you that you have improperly taken the test. Trying to fake it or just pretending to blow will mean that you’ll be charged with the criminal offence of failure to blow. This offence carries the same penalties as any other drinking and driving offence.
The man who took the test had to have the procedures explained to him several times reinforcing my impression that this was one seriously drunk driver. I asked the technician what was the worst case he’d ever seen and was told that a man had tested and scored a 3.45 where the maximum allowable limit is 0.8. He was so drunk that his arms and legs were stiff and he had trouble bending his elbows and knees. Nonetheless he got behind the wheel of a car and went for a drive!
This driver however was not that drunk. Where I was expecting that he would score well over 1.50 in the first test, he actually only got a .95. Each test must be repeated 20 minutes later and the lower score is the one that goes to court. His second test was a 1.02 and he was duly charged with the criminal offence of driving with more than the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. Since he was fairly sober by the end of the two-hour testing and processing term he was released to go home by taxi.
The young lady scored a .84 on her first test which was still over the legal limit. Her second test 20 minutes later however scored a .74. According to criminal law she was technically legal when driving.
The technician explained that blood alcohol content changes with time. For every drink you take you add .25 alcohol into your bloodstream. The average person metabolizes or loses about .15 every hour. It also takes a certain period of time for the alcohol to get through your stomach contents and into your blood. So at any given time your blood alcohol content is going to be either on its way up as more and more alcohol enters your system or on its way down as you metabolize the liquor without adding anymore from the contents of your stomach.
For the man the alcohol was still building and he was getting drunker by the moment. The young lady was on a down swing and the alcohol was leaving her bloodstream. Since her lowest score was less than the .80 allowed by law she could not be charged with the criminal offence of drinking and driving.