Alcohol

Drunken Journalism

|

A local CBS television reporter went drinking to test various personal blood-alcohol devices. She found a wide disparity in readings among the different brands, showing I guess that you really shouldn't trust the things. What she fails to do, though, is ask why courts are then so reliant on them. She brought some patrol officers with her, and measured her results against the device she describes as "court-approved." But she never really questions whether or not that one is accurate (hint: it may not be).

She then says that the police officers who helped her with the story told her that "how a drinker scores in a field sobriety test is the real measure of inebriation."

In fact, this simply isn't true. The standard field sobriety test was adopted by NHTSA after one poorly administered test on 238 subjects in 1977. It's never been peer reviewed. One forensic expert in Georgia gave the test to 21 of his students, none of whom had a drop to drink. He then showed video of the tests to a group of police officers. They said they'd arrest nearly half of them.

NEXT: RON paUl PhOR pr351D3n7

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Officer Plyler: You have obviously built up a super-human tolerance to alcohol.
    Johnny: Yes, it’s true. It was once sort of a hobby.

  2. One forensic expert in Georgia gave the test to 21 of his students, none of whom had a drop to drink. He then showed video of the tests to a group of police officers. They said they’d arrest nearly half of them.

    I guess that would explain why we don’t videotape DUI suspects and decide to arrest them based reviewing those videos.

    This sounds like a blatantly rigged study, since officers in the field would be able to observe other factors on the suspect, mostly the the fact that drunk people reek of booze.

  3. Having been drunk once or twice, I think there is a level of common sense that could be used when determining if someone was drunk or not.

    In other news, the “Drunk in Public” statute that some cities and states have is the dumbest thing ever. If I’m stumbling down the street to my house, I don’t think I should be charged with anything except being coherent enough to decide not to drive.

  4. ProL,

    First thing I thought of. One of my favorite episodes. They really need to get the music royalties problem worked out so I can buy the series on DVD (I say without checking Amazon to see if it has been worked out since last I heard).

  5. Solution: Drink Hennigan’s!

    Here’s a testimonial from one of our satisfied customers:

    “I just had three shots of Hennigans and I don’t smell. Imagine, you can walk around drunk all day. That’s Hennigans, the no-smell, no-tell scotch.”

  6. There are so many variables to bad driving[ie. lack of sleep,lack of attention,exsessive speed, to name a few] why punish one factor more severly and in most cases where there is no harm?We’er now using road blocks that are illeagle in any other cicumstance to punish people that have done nothing.Also ,it is a known fact that these machines ave a huge margine of error,even when working properly.

  7. From the article:

    In Fairfax County, well, Judge Ian M. O’Flaherty hasn’t even let prosecutors get as far as the field sobriety tests. He’s been throwing out drunk-driving cases — five in one recent week — that automatically presume one is intoxicated with blood alcohol content over .08 on the grounds that the law itself is unconstitutional.

    The joke writes itself.

  8. MP wins the thread, although I confess that I had to read his post three times before I got it.

  9. Nobody wins with demon alcohol until I says they win.

  10. I am volunteering myself for all alcohol testing studies, provided that I will not be the control subject.

  11. Abdul,

    See you at the next Reasonid gathering!

    I hope someone soon does another article about the other myths around DUI charges/procedures. Like the one about a blood test request must be honored and what happens of you refuse to be tested, lots of other things I wish I could remember.

  12. Season 1 is out. Unfortunately they did not get the rights to the original songs and dialogue but it still holds up well.

    Turkeys Away!

  13. They didn’t get the rights to the original dialogue?!

    Juh?

    Anywho, this post begs for a link to the infamous Sushi Pants story.

  14. There are serious confrontation clause issues with these machines. The machines themselves are proprietary and the companies that make them will not release the source code. Basically, we are convicting people based on the results of a magic box. The box produces results but the accused is not allowed to see the full code that produces the results. Yeah, that is fair.

  15. There are serious confrontation clause issues with these machines. The machines themselves are proprietary and the companies that make them will not release the source code. Basically, we are convicting people based on the results of a magic box. The box produces results but the accused is not allowed to see the full code that produces the results. Yeah, that is fair.

    Let’s leave the election of George W. Bush out of this.

  16. Hey Dan T,

    Good point, why don’t we just go back to paper ballets? That makes sense, that way we have a simple record that can never be destroyed of how everyone voted. But wait, some people might mismark the ballets or not understand them. Oh Nevermind.

  17. The machines themselves are proprietary and the companies that make them will not release the source code. Basically, we are convicting people based on the results of a magic box. The box produces results but the accused is not allowed to see the full code that produces the results. Yeah, that is fair.

    Yet, when people make these same complaints about electronic voting machines, they get treated like tin foil hat wearing loonies and we are told we are supposed to trust the machines and stop our conspiracy theories. Funny that.

  18. That makes sense, that way we have a simple record that can never be destroyed of how everyone voted. But wait, some people might mismark the ballets or not understand them. Oh Nevermind.

    What about an electronic machine that produces a paper ballot that gets counted and you could inspect for accuracy instead of the machine just telling you what everyone voted for?

  19. Something I’ve never said before:

    Dan T. wins the thread.

  20. Let’s leave the election of George W. Bush out of this.

    I’m not understanding the rancor, John. It’s a joke and a pretty funny one at that.

    IANAL, but as I understand, when pulled over for suspicion of DUI it’s very simple: be polite; refuse to perform any field sobriety tests; refuse to admit you’ve been drinking; if you think you’re innocent, get a blood test; if you think you’re guilty, shut up and don’t say a word until your attorney tells you to.

    The advice here is useful, and funny besides.

  21. L_I_T
    I agree completely with that sentiment. What better way to encourrage people to drive than to cite them for walking?

    And Dan, I agree that there are things in real life that would be a tell for an officer that would not be available via video. But, as a test of the sobriety field test itself, the videos will serve just fine.

  22. They didn’t get the rights to the original dialogue?!

    There are cases where song lyrics are integral to the dialogue. The episode with the Soviet defector and Elton John’s Tiny Dancer is one example. Any time Johnny or Venus queued up a record they had to change the lines if they didn’t own the rights to the song.

    Hold My Order Terrible Dresser

  23. I don’t have any rancor. I thought it was kind of funny to. Further, I agree with Chicago Tom that using computer voting machines with proprietary code is a terrible idea. I have always supported the use of paper ballots and think that the move away from them is probably the worst result of the 2000 Florida election fiasco. My only point was that the same people who bitch about machines also bitched about paper ballots. Perhaps someday we can vote by ESP and they will be happy.

  24. Field sobriety tests are a joke. I for one passed one once when I was drunk off my ass. I also know several people who have failed them despite being completely sober.

  25. And Dan, I agree that there are things in real life that would be a tell for an officer that would not be available via video. But, as a test of the sobriety field test itself, the videos will serve just fine.

    Perhaps, but I’m thinking that the field tests are generally just one aspect that goes into determining whether or not you’ll be arrested for DUI. I doubt in most cases you’ll even be asked to perform it if you aren’t giving off other indications of being drunk.

    I guess the bigger picture is that police officers need some way of determining after someone is pulled over whether or not that individual is too intoxicated to safely drive. If the field test is too unreliable, then let’s hear some better ideas.

  26. ProGLib,

    What’s the connection, other than that it is also a great story?

  27. swillfredo pareto,

    An interview I saw a few years back said they werent going to release on DVD until they could work out deals for at least a vast majority of the original music.

    They had the same problem with syndication, so Im guessing these are the syndicated versions?

  28. robc

    They are not exactly the syndicated versions. It seems like they have restored all content that was originally cut just for the sake of adding commercial time, but they have been very thorough cutting anything they did not have rights to. I don’t understand why fair use doesn’t cover some of this. Why the fuck does Johnny need permission to say Pink Floyd? Anyway there are some good details here.

    I was all set not to like the DVDs because of the number of changes but it is a great show even bowdlerized.

  29. Trying again. Here

  30. Another great story that involves pain and raw flesh.

  31. As Penn would say, cool cool cool!

  32. Having been drunk once or twice, I think there is a level of common sense that could be used when determining if someone was drunk or not.

    “Common sense” is inadmissible in a court of law. Causes too much confusion.

  33. And +50 points to swillfredo pareto for use of the word “bowdlerized.”

    I ? that word.

  34. Perhaps, but I’m thinking that the field tests are generally just one aspect that goes into determining whether or not you’ll be arrested for DUI. I doubt in most cases you’ll even be asked to perform it if you aren’t giving off other indications of being drunk.

    That is a nice theory that does not survive reality past 9:30 PM in Fairfax County, VA.

  35. Guy,

    Did you do any voice work for the new GTA game?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.