Marlene Hotchkiss wobbled in her high heels and lost her balance as she walked heel to toe, trying to perform a Utah Highway Patrol field sobriety test Friday afternoon.
"Let's go! She's a keeper," said UHP Sgt. Judy Hamaker, whipping handcuffs from her belt.After two glasses of white wine, and having eaten only a light breakfast, Hotchkiss' blood alcohol level registered 0.064 percent when she blew into an "Intoxylizer" machine. The legal limit in Utah, at which a driver is presumed to be drunk, is 0.08 percent.
But her reflexes and balance were impaired enough that she could not operate a car safely.
Hamaker was just joking when she flourished the 'cuffs. But if Hotchkiss had been driving a car and had been pulled over, she would have failed the sobriety test, and she would have been arrested for driving under the influence.
Hotchkiss, who works for the Utah Medical Insurance Association, was a volunteer in a demonstration intended to show that Utah's blood-alcohol limit is too high.
Nearly a dozen volunteers had two drinks apiece at the Utah Medical Association headquarters, 540 E. 500 South, and then submitted to breath analysis and field sobriety tests. The results varied widely, depending on body weight, sex and whether the imbiber had eaten recently.
The volunteers weren't there to party. Some had strong feelings about drunk driving, such as Greg Brown, a Sandy resident whose wife is a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving."We lost one of our sons about five years ago," because of an accident in which alcohol was a factor, he said.
Nobody's blood level came up to the 0.08 percent level. But many failed the tests.
The setting was decorated with alcohol ads, including neon lights and a big National Football League banner that celebrated lite beer. Drinkers bantered with each other and blew into the analysis machine.
"It was surprising that I had that low (a blood alcohol level) and still couldn't function," Hotchkiss said. "But I'm not usually sitting there drinking two glasses of wine that quickly."
Amazingly, the breathalyzer machine barely registered after Stan Altman consumed two Scotches. The first time he puffed into the machine, 15 minutes after finishing the second highball, it reported a level of 0.012 percent.
The next time, it was .008 percent. The last time, 45 minutes after he finished drinking, two different machines registered 0.000.
"I had the two drinks in the period of half an hour, but I had a big sandwich," he said. He passed the field tests.
Asked exactly what he had been drinking, he said, "Scotch and water with a twist. It's the lemon that did it."
Others didn't metabolize the alcohol as quickly. Jodi Livingston, who had nothing to eat since 8 a.m., sported a blood alcohol level of 0.07 percent.
"I shouldn't drive," she said.
"I don't feel totally intoxicated, but I don't feel I would be able to drive . . . I'm just surprised that it was below the legal limit."
However, she did well in the field sobriety test.
"I feel it," Bill Rouse said of the alcohol. He had just registered 0.06 percent.
Did he feel too under the weather to drive? "I would consider driving now, but it's probably because I don't feel completely rational. I probably shouldn't (drive)."
He was right: He shouldn't drive. Soon after using the breath machine, Rouse was performing a one-foot stand, trying to count off the seconds for half a minute. He began steadily at one 1,000, two 1,000, three 1,000 . . .
His free leg began to waver, he crouched, and at eighteen 1,000 he had to quit.
"He's a good one. He's well on his way," Hamaker said.
None of the volunteers drove after the tests. They either had to have designated drivers with them, or UHP officers would drive them home.
Dr. George Van Komen, chairman of the Alcohol Policy Coalition and one of the organizers of the demonstration, said the event had two purposes:
- First, it was to show members of the public that they shouldn't assume that they are safe drivers just because they didn't drink much. They could be intoxicated while still below the presumption level.
- Second, organizers hope to convince the Legislature that Utah's strict standard should be toughened so that blood alcohol level of at least 0.04 percent carries a presumption of drunk driving. Members of the Utah Senate and House of Representatives are considering sponsoring such a bill in the next legislative session.
"We're not having any (blood alcohol levels) that exceed the legal level in the state," Van Komen said.
"But the important thing, I believe, is the marked degree of impairment we're been able to detect with some people with legal blood alcohol levels."
At a level of 0.04 percent, people could drink moderately and wait a reasonable length of time before driving, and still feel comfortable about getting behind the wheel, he said.
If the standard were toughened, "I believe we could see the same thing occur in the state of Utah that has happened in other coun-tries.
"In the Netherlands, they passed a low BAC (blood alcohol content) law in 1965," he said. That limit is 0.05 percent.
"Since that time, they've had a 60-percent reduction in alcohol-related fatalities," Van Komen said. That drop represented the saving of 2,000 lives a year just in that one country.