California’s ad campaign touting the phrase “buzzed driving IS drunk driving” is misleading. It’s not that I’m against the government making public safety announcements meant to save lives and deter criminal acts. But when it’s doing so I’d also like to not be misled. At the risk of sounding like an after school special, I think knowledge is indeed power. And frankly, doing the job I do I am a strong proponent of not driving if you have ANY alcohol in your system. It’s too easy for something to happen on the road and have fingers pointing to your BAC. But you can also make better decisions if you know information on the subject. In the case of buzzed driving = drunk driving, that statement is not necessarily true. It strikes me as more of a catchy scare tactic than accurate information. The commercials usually depict young men stumbling out of clubs and their cars filling up with what looks like beer. The campaign may actually be more effective if they show the truth. A person can get a DUI after drinking just a couple beers. These young men didn’t have to stumble out of the club or take a beer bath to get the point across. But I digress. Moving on.
First, I suppose we have to define what “buzzed” really means. There is no dictionary definition for the word used in the context of a level of intoxication because it is essentially slang. But what it basically means is that a person feels the effects of alcohol to some degree, but less than feeling drunk. This is obviously a subjective state, and depending on the person this feeling can be the result of a BAC well under the per se legal limit or it could mean the person is well over the per se legal limit. For a heavy drinker, “buzzed” might correlate to a very high BAC, whereas a non-drinker who has his first beer might have a low BAC, but could very well be legally under the influence.
There are two ways to get a “DUI” if you consume alcohol and drive in a non-commercial vehicle in California. The first way is to be driving under the influence of alcohol, and the second is to be driving with a BAC of 0.08% or more. Now, a person is under the influence of alcohol for purposes of the driving under the influence statute if, “his or her mental or physical abilities are so impaired that he or she is no longer able to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances.” CALCRIM No. 2110, Driving Under the Influence. Depending on the individual, feeling buzzed may or may not result in an inability to drive with the caution of a sober person. But you ask, can’t only sober people drive with the caution of a sober person? The answer has to be no. It must be assumed that if the government thought any amount of alcohol would impair drivers such that they would not be able to operate a vehicle with the caution of a sober person, it would have set the legal limit at 0.01% as it has for minors. Instead it carefully chose to write the statutes as requiring being either under the influence or being at or above the 0.08% limit. So the government by writing the statutes the way it did recognized that there is some distinction between illegal “drunk” driving and driving with some alcohol in one’s system. That “some alcohol” level could be a buzzed level, and that buzzed level may not necessarily result in an inability to drive as cautiously as a sober person. Buzzed driving therefore, could or could not be considered “drunk” driving.
So what’s the downfall to the government using possibly misleading information to deter us? Not a whole lot except when it’s telling me why I should or shouldn’t do something next time my starting point is going to be mistrust and possibly disbelief. Like I said before, knowledge is power, and when someone tells me something useful, the next time that person tells me information I’m going to be listening more closely and I’m going to be more willing to accept it as true. But hell, maybe the government is right in sensationalizing and dumbing down its ads. When I watch a scary movie now or even an action movie, if I don’t see some form of decapitation, organs being ripped out, or at least an explosion or two, I’m bored. I’m also no longer shocked at the things I see people do in our society, so maybe the government is targeting those of us who fall into the “you gotta be kidding me, did he really just do that” category. However, when it comes to telling us what the laws are, I feel the government has a duty to be truthful. A law abiding citizen can only follow the rules if s/he knows what the rules are. If the government wants to teach, deter, or make an impact on society by communications, tell us the truth. More often than not it’s the truth that will have the sobering and lasting effect the government is seeking. Show a commercial of a 21 year old male having two ales at a bar, walking out of the bar looking sober, getting in his car, failing to use a signal when changing lanes, being pulled over and administered FST’s on, forgetting to keep his foot planted on the walk and turn test, counting to 27 in 30 seconds, and having his eye twitch during an eye exam, and a blood draw revealing a BAC of .07%, and the booking process, and court process. Perhaps follow the clips up with the phrase: It’s easy to get a DUI.
So what do you take away from this? You can be buzzed, but not necessarily be driving under the influence or a 0.08%. And you can be buzzed and be DUI. But the government should keep it real. It’s accurate to say you can get a DUI if you are buzzed, but it’s also accurate to say buzzed driving is not always drunk driving. Of course, maybe our definitions of “buzzed” differ.
*This article does not constitute legal advice. The information contained in this article should not be relied upon in any legal action, and any law contained herein applies in California state courts only. It is not a substitute for legal advice and the accuracy of the information may have changed since its publication. If you have a pending legal case, you should contact a lawyer to address any questions you may have about your case, the internet is not a substitute for professional service.