Consider this scenario: You and your spouse go out to dinner. You’ve had only one glass of wine and you’re feeling fine, so you drive home. On the way, you get into a fender bender and the next thing you know, a police officer is administering a breathalyzer test and you get charged with a DWI.
Even if your blood alcohol content is below the legal limit, there can be serious consequences associated with drinking and driving. Studies show there is no safe blood alcohol level when it comes to driving. In addition, a recent report found that for those aged 55 to 70, driving after even one glass of wine is especially risky.
We asked Trooper Travis about his perspective on buzzed drivers. Knowing an officer’s perspective can help you avoid a DUI/DWI.
Can officers detect when you have only had one drink?
Travis: Officers are trained to detect when someone has been drinking. I have found that approximately 9 out of 10 people who are pulled over say they have only had one drink, whether they are lying or are telling the truth. The people who admit to more than one drink either tend to be habitual drinkers and know they cannot get away with claiming to have had just one or are so afraid that they do not think to tell a lie.
As far as drinks go, anything close to pure alcohol will be most detectable to police. Liquor is more noticeable on a person\’s breath than wine, and beer is easily detectable from the hops smell. Many drivers mistakenly think that having a mint will cover up the alcohol smell, but it typically doesn’t work.
If a driver passes a field sobriety test, does that mean s/he won’t be charged with a DWI?
Travis: Not necessarily. If your BAC is shown to be .08 or above via a breathalyzer test, you will likely still be charged even if you are functional enough to pass other tests, such as walking a straight line. In addition, just because you pass a breathalyzer or field sobriety test does not mean you won’t be arrested. If you appear to be under the influence, but blow below a .08, the officer may still ask you to take a drug test – either a blood, urine, or hair analysis. Many drivers do not realize that by having a license in NY state, you are giving the state the right to drug test you. This can cause problems because drugs from a week, two weeks, or even a month ago can show up in one of these tests, and the law is based on whether the drug is present at the time of testing; when it was ingested is not relevant.
Is it better for drivers to tell the truth or remain silent about whether they have been drinking?
Travis: Telling the truth about drugs or alcohol will not prevent you from being charged. If you get into an accident and have been drinking, all benefit of the doubt goes out the window, especially if children are in the back seat. While police have some discretion when it comes to issuing citations for violations like speeding, there is very little discretion when it comes to criminal offenses such as DUI’s.
Why should drivers be honest about their actions, especially if they will be charged with a DUI regardless and the statements can be used against them in court?
Travis: While you always have the right to remain silent so as not to incriminate yourself, from an officer’s perspective, being honest and cooperative is still helpful. The officer might appreciate the driver’s honesty and be less likely to issue additional discretionary citations that often accompany DUI charges.
You mentioned it is especially bad if children are in the back seat. Is it different for a parent who has one or two drinks and then drives with kids in the car?
Travis: As a grandparent myself, I refrain from drinking when out with my grandchildren. It is common for people to have a drink with dinner or at a social event, but I advise parents to think twice before driving with their kids in the car even after just one drink. What parents often don’t realize is that if you are caught driving buzzed or drunk with kids in the car, you can be facing criminal charges for neglect to minors in addition to a DWI.