Friday, April 8, 2011

By Chester Campbell

Driving while under the influence is a serious matter, but the subject can keep an audience laughing and giggling when delivered by a natural comic. Our speaker at the Metro Nashville Citizen Police Academy this week was a veteran of twenty-two years as a DUI officer. He was a hoot.

He started by showing a CollegeHumor video of a drunk trying to buy beer. He had an edited version that wasn't as long as the one I Googled and found here. The last frame shows the man doing out the door of the store. The officer said it made him wonder if the guy got inhis car and drove off. He didn't report encountering any drivers that impaired, but he described some doozies. There was the woman who could pass the DUI tests with a blood alcohol level above 2.0.

He explained the history behind the DUI tests, which once included things like touching your finger to your nose. After much research and debate, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration issued a standard set of three tasks for use in field sobriety testing. First is the Walk and Turn. The subject is told to walk ten steps following a straight line, heel to toe, then stop, turn around, and walk the same back to the starting point. They are told it is important to do it exactly as instructed. Drunks will often stop and ask how many steps they've taken or just keep going for fourteen or more.

Another is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test. The officer moves an object across in front of the subject's face and watches the way his eyes track. A drunk will tend to have jerky eye movements. The other is the One-Leg-Stand Test. The suspect stands with feet together, arms at the side, and is told to raise one leg about six inches, toe straight, and count "one thousand and one, one thousand and two" up to thirty while holding the leg up.

The officer said repeat offenders can get pretty smart. They will practice the tests in preparation for the next DUI stop. He demonstrated the two voices he uses when stopping people. The first was very soft and polite when he asks to see their driver's license. The second was quite forceful when he says, "Sir, you are under arrest for driving under the influence."

He says they never use the term "drunk driving." DUI refers to under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

When asked about his most scary stop, he told of pulling a car over one night in the tunnel on Murfreesboro Road, about 100 yards long, that runs beneath an airport runway. The tunnel is lighted, with three lanes on each side. He got out and went back to talk to the driver. As he did, he noticed a car coming toward them. It was in his lane and showed no sign of slowing. He yelled at the driver to get out and jumped out of the way just before the oncoming car slammed into the one he had stopped. It oncoming driver was drunk.

A fatal crash investigator talked to us before the DUI officer. He used a term I hadn't heard before, referring to the white and yellow lines on the road as "mayonnaise and mustard." He spoke of all the exhaustive investigation done at a fatal crash scene, which is why traffic can be tied up at length.

He said drivers give all sorts of excuses for why accidents happen, but the "proximate" or factual cause comes from one of three sources: driver failure, transportation system failure (lack of proper signage, etc.), or mechanical failure. There can be many contributing factors, but those are the real causes of accidents, or crashes as traffic cops call them.

One fact he mentioned that will make you think about your driving habits concerns following the vehicle ahead too closely. It takes 1.6 seconds of reaction time to perceive a threat and start to take action. If you're traveling at 70 mph on the interstate and a truck stops in front of you, you'll travel a little over 100 feet before you get your foot on the brake.

I've been a lot more careful in judging distances and speeds since then.


Helen Ginger said...

Sounds like it was a fun talk and really informative. Even sober, I probably wouldn't be able to do the one-leg stand. I don't have the balance I had as a teenager. They should have a different test for those over 40. Maybe have us dance the Cotton Eyed Joe moves.

Marja said...

Very interesting article. I would have liked to have listened to that talk. I'm with Helen though. Definitely a different test for those over forty.

Stephen L. Brayton said...

The gentleman sounds like a very entertaining and informative person. He'd be interesting to keep him in mind for future seminars.

Morgan Mandel said...

Fascinating to hear from the officer's perspective. I'm afraid I'd have trouble with the leg one even when sober.

Morgan Mandel

Chester Campbell said...

I agree on the one-leg stand. These tests, however, are only one factor the officers considers when judging if the person is too intoxicated to drive. A strong odor of alcohol is a definite tip-off, weaving across the line in the street, how coherent the person talks, etc. He said the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that a person can weave all they want to as long as they stay between the lines.

Earl Staggs said...

Good stuff, Chester. Tailgating is the major cause of most rearenders. People think I drive like a wimp for leaving so much space between my car and the one ahead of me, but that's why.