Over the limit and not under arrest?
MILWAUKEE - If the legal limit is lowered from .08 to .05, even a few drinks might end up being a few too many. So the I-Team teamed up with police trainers at the Milwaukee Area Technical College to find out just how fast a drinker could hit the limit. What we discovered is alarming, not just because of how quickly you can hit .05, but because police may not be able to detect it.
"There's going to be some challenges in this. There's no doubt, if in fact we do go to a .05 in Wisconsin," says John Gscheidmeier with MATC.
Our volunteers, station employees, Courtney and Clark, agreed to come out to MATC and from there it was bottoms up. The goal, a comparison test to get Courtney and Clark to .05 and then, .08 with sobriety tests along the way. After two beers in about forty-five minutes, Courtney blows a .046 with a breathalyzer. Clark, a .049. Clark was extremely surprised.
"If that were lowered, that would be a serious offense," says Clark.
And yet during a field sobriety test, both Clark and Courtney are able to walk in a straight line, stand on one foot and during the eye test, their eyes do not bounce when asked to follow Gscheidmeier's finger from side to side.
"Their field sobriety tests were nearly perfect. More than likely we would not have proceded much beyond that," explains Gschedmeier.
Police can only use a breathalyzer if they have reasonable cause or catch mistakes in a sobriety test. Instructors say without being able to catch the warning signs, .05 may be like the texting while driving law, practically unenforceable unless there is a crash.
"From a training perspective from an alcohol enforcement standpoint it's going to present some challenges for law enforcement," says Gschedmeier.
We let Courtney and Clark drink another beer. Now they are at a .06.
"I feel impaired," describes Courtney.
But still Courtney and Clark's eyes do not bounce during the eye test and she passes the rest of her field sobriety test.
After one more round of beer and about two hours in, our volunteers blow again. Courtney blows a .09 and Clark is not far behind her. However, Clark says he does not feel impaired at all and feels like he could drive a car. But this time the field sobriety test gives it all away. Both Courtney and Clark's eyes bounce during the eye test. A sign instructors say can only be picked up at .08.
Police instructors say the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration needs to study .05 more closely if the limit is to be lowered. If the limit is lowered it may require a whole new test and for police across the country to be completely retrained.