Q The other evening I had one of the scariest freeway incidents of my life. At about 4:15 p.m. we were heading to Christmas in the Park in downtown San Jose on the ramp from south Highway 85 to north 87 when I noticed smoke on the shoulder ahead of me.
As I got closer, I realized that a Suburban or Blazer was heading for me in the opposite direction. A wrong-way driver.
It was a very scary situation. His vehicle appeared to be damaged since smoke was coming from a tire that was not spinning. Luckily for me he stayed on the shoulder and passed without hitting me. I thought this guy was going to kill someone.
The 911 operator told my wife they had many calls for this. I looked for news online when I got home to see if there were any major accidents but didn't see anything, thankfully. I was hoping you could reach out to your CHP buddies and see if this idiot was ever caught or arrested. He put the lives of probably hundreds of people in jeopardy and should be punished.
A There was no record of any arrest, but the CHP suspects that this person happened to be going the wrong way after a minor crash. "That happens more times then people think," said D.J.-the-CHP-Man.
Wrong-way driving, often the result of intoxication, is a leading cause of highway deaths. Last week the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all U.S. drivers convicted of driving while impaired be required to have "ignition interlocks" installed on their vehicles. This device prevents vehicle engines from starting until the driver provides a breath sample. The sample is analyzed for alcohol content and, if determined to be lower than prescribed legal limits, will allow the car to start.
The NTSB also called for the development of passive alcohol-detection technology that would be standard in all automobiles. This system would prevent alcohol-impaired individuals from operating their vehicles by detecting alcohol in the driver's system through breath- and touch-based sensors.
Q I have read your articles on drunken driving, and it has renewed my vigilance to make sure I am not a drunken driver. Unfortunately, I feel that this is mostly guesswork.
It is common knowledge that a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or greater is considered drunk. However, I have no idea how to know what a BAC of 0.08 feels like. I'm sure there have been times when my BAC is higher than that (I should emphasize that I mean while consuming, not while driving). My issue is that there is not an easy way to determine if one is "fit to drive" after consuming alcohol.
A The answer is different for everyone. Whereas a 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound man may be able to ingest two to three drinks (12 oz. of beer, 4 oz. of wine, or 1.25 oz. of hard liquor) in an hour on an empty stomach before becoming impaired, a 5-foot-2-inch, 100-pound woman may be impaired after just one drink.
Anyone can buy a consumer-grade blood alcohol tester for less than $100. But be aware that such consumer devices are not as accurate as the ones used by police, which can cost several hundred dollars. If it came up anything over 0.05, I wouldn't feel safe.
Also, a driver does not need to be over 0.08 to be cited for drunken driving. You can still fail a field sobriety test and be a danger at blood levels below 0.08. You don't even have to feel a buzz to be impaired enough to get a citation or be too slow to react in time behind the wheel.
Q I was driving in my car eating Trader Joe's "Chocolate Liqueur Cherries" (4.4 percent alcohol) and wondering to myself: Is it illegal to eat alcohol and drive? When I stopped eating them, I still was left with an opened box of alcohol-laden food. And while I only ate a few, so no doubt I didn't consume enough alcohol to risk impairment, did I break any laws?
A No. The "open container" law (CVC 23223) specifically addresses "alcoholic beverages," so the chocolates would not be covered by that section. The amount of alcohol in the chocolate is relatively insignificant, and you'd probably have to eat more than a box for it to register on a Breathalyzer. Mike-the-San-Jose-Traffic-Cop tells me he read a story online about someone who tried to get drunk by eating chocolates and only got sick.