While the holiday is thought of as a time to gather with friends and family, it is also a time when our roadways will be crowded and more dangerous than ever. In fact, recent statistics show Wednesday night is the second most popular party night of the year. This will have many drivers questioning whether they're over the legal limit.
Under both Texas and Oklahoma law, it's illegal to drive when your blood alcohol content level is .08 or higher. A variety of companies selling pocket breathalyzers claim you can blow into their devices and get a blood alcohol reading just like the police. There are dozens of models available online, from low-end key chain types for $10 all the way up to $300+ devices. Newschannel 6 bought the Bactrack Select S-70 for about $150.
We gathered five volunteers all older than 21-years-old and headed to Archer City where the Sheriff's Deputies put them to the test. In this controlled experiment, we had two females of different ethnicity and sizes and three males also of different weight and height. The deputies assigned some to drink liquor and some to drink beer. It didn't take long before some of our subjects were nearing the .08 mark. But they still felt OK to drive. There are a number of reasons some of them didn't initially feel the effects.
"If you drink on an empty stomach, you're going to feel it quicker than if you had a full stomach, but it's still going to have the same affect on your brain, on your actions," Deputy Tony Hanley said.
It wasn't until after round two we really started to see how all the different factors come into play.
"Body size does play into it, but another factor is how much you actually drink on a normal basis. You're still going to be over the legal limit, but you won't physically show it as someone who does not drink very often," Deputy Jeremy Maxwell said to one of our volunteers.
Both times we tested, we had the deputies use their breathalyzer then we compared it to the Bactrack S-70. Time after time, the store-bought device actually gave a higher reading. Meaning, it showed they were more intoxicated than the reading the deputies got. Sometimes it was fairly close, for others, it was way off.
"I'm not saying yours is broken, but ours is calibrated and when it's off, it shows up on the screen," Deputy Hanley said.
Even for those who were under the legal limit of .08, what many don't realize is the breath test is not the deciding factor.
"You can still go to jail even if you're under .08 because even if you blow lower your mental faculties are what we are looking for," Deputy Hanley said.
That's why you shouldn't worry only about what number you blow, but rather how your body reacts to the amount of alcohol you decide to drink. Away from the station, deputies rely on a series of physical or cognitive tests. What we commonly call a field sobriety test.
"If you're intoxicated, your brain can't multi task. That's why we have 18 things we tell them to do, because anybody sober can do them," Deputy Hanley said.
We weren't allowed to show a demonstration on camera because it is a standard test most law enforcement agencies in the country use. We did learn if you get pulled over after drinking and try to mask the smell with gum, mints or cigarettes, it's probably not going to work. It's also not going to keep your blood alcohol content level from showing up in a breathalyzer test.
"It's pulling samples from breath that's coming from deep within the lungs where the alcohol is actually being processed. That's the breath that it tests so whatever is in the mouth is not going to have an affect on that test," Sergeant Randy Hanson said.
If you are going to use your own pocket breathalyzer, most say to wait 20 minutes after you drink your last drink before testing yourself. It takes time for your body to metabolize the alcohol and taking it immediately won't give an accurate reading of how intoxicated you really are. The deputies said depending on how much you drink, it could take hours before it wears off and it's safe for you to drive.
"It's possible they wake up in the morning and are stopped or have an accident and they are still over .08 because they haven't given enough time to get back below the legal limit," Sergeant Simon Dwyer said.
One wrong decision could change your life in a matter of seconds and these deputies do not want to have to make that dreaded call if you hurt yourself or someone else.
"It's awful, you have knots in your stomach, you feel terrible," Deputy David Wilk said.
So, if you plan to enjoy a night out catching up with friends or family this holiday season, remember to plan ahead and never drink and drive.
"If you're going to have a beer or two don't drive. Whether you're 300lbs. or 100 lbs. it doesn't matter, have someone else drive," Deputy Hanley said.
All of our volunteers did have a safe sober ride home.