Eugene Police Officer Jed McGuire picks up the vodka from a table lined with various liquors. He’s about to pour Eugene resident Rachel Denning a screwdriver (vodka and orange juice). She is three drinks deep, and after this one she’ll take the driver’s seat of a nearby car.
McGuire was part of the Eugene Police Department‘s DUI demonstration on Wednesday that, with the cooperation of the Eugene, Springfield and Coburg police departments, took six volunteers out to the Corvallis airport to drink and drive on a closed course. The car used was a driver’s education car, so the police officers sitting in the passenger’s seat had an emergency brake to hit in case anything went horribly wrong.
Before the main event started, drivers were asked to go through the course sober as a control drive. Then they were given drinks, which either had single or double shots. Each time they finished a cup, the drivers drove the course and went through a field sobriety test and a breathalyzer test.
Each run, they were not allowed to know their blood alcohol content so that it couldn’t influence their driving. Yet for the most part, EPD tried to keep them well under the legal driving BAC level of .08.
“I think my last run was my best,” Denning said. She had no idea that she failed all three sections of the field sobriety test, blew a .073 and actually drove rather erratically.
From inside the car, officers were constantly being jerked around as the drivers drove the winding section of the course. Tires squealed in protest as corners were taken too quickly and the entire car rocked each time they came to a screeching halt.
The second part of the course provided drivers with more realistic city driving, including parallel parking. Here, even sober, many of the drivers hit at least one cone.
At the very least, Denning realized she was impaired.
“The biggest difference is the actual feeling while driving,” Denning said. “I couldn’t drive at that point. You’re really not getting the same perspective.”
To the officers who rode along, their day was not as easy as having a drink and taking a drive.
“I’ve been in every single ride,” Eugene Police Officer Michaels Klews said. “I have such a bad headache.”
Officer Klews had the privilege of being the one in the passenger seat with his hand on the emergency break in case of disaster.
“These drivers had 12 feet of space on their course with cones lining the outside,” Klews said. “For the most part, each driver cut the corners severely, taking them about four feet from the cones.”
Officer McGuire not only mixed the drinks, but kept track of the amount of drinks, BAC levels and sobriety test results for each driver.
“There’s no such thing as a good drunk driver,” McGuire said. “You’re only fooling yourself.”
Drivers who blew a .045 were failing every sobriety test, and hitting just as many cones as the ones who were further along. By the last drives of the day, every driver was over the limit. Denning blew a .098 and was the lowest of the group.
“You can still get charged or arrested for a DUI even if you’re under the legal limit,” McGuire said. “You don’t have to be sloppy to be dangerous.”