So the Boss beat the rap, pleading guilty to drinking in the park. Riding his motorcycle while clearly under the influence of some substance disappeared as it often does in our inconsistent court system. Britt Reid was suspended or fired by his father and has just been charged with DUI. One of his victims is still hospitalized but is improving from her life changing brain injury. These are stories that occur every day in the United States and around the world.
Based upon statements I have seen from Springsteen, he is in love with tequila. His father was a mean drunk and Bruce is a happy drunk so no problem. Bruce's attitude about his own alcohol trouble is not surprising because we all have an image of who is "alcoholic" and that person becomes the standard by which we judge ourselves and others. It may be the stereotype of the male, down on their luck, older than you are, derelict but, more likely, it is someone we know well and are usually related to. As long as Bruce does not act like his father, he is safe. Britt's history is incriminating and we may learn more if his case gets the media attention it deserves.
Both Bruce and Britt made spontaneous statements to the police about the amount of alcohol they had consumed. They did so because we have been taught to measure DUI in terms of the number of drinks and the Blood Alcohol Level or BAL. Just about everywhere, the legal BAL is .08. While it is necessary to have a legal standard for judging criminality. assuming that a specific BAL tells us anything useful is fanciful. .08 is a completely arbitrary standard. Even if we could make a direct link between BAL and impaired driving--which we can't-- other factors also determine the level of impairment. For example, we all know about distracted driving due to cellphones and texting. What is the safe BAL limit when the driver is texting? Or what is the acceptable BAL when the driver has just been fired or had an argument with their significant other? To assume that BAL alone means anything meaningful is just silly. If the driver is stinkin' drunk, we and the police don't need a BAL to know that he/she shouldn't be driving.
A problem arises when the BAL is near the legal limit as the driver will claim no impairment as the other circumstances of impairment are generally not even known, much less considered. Remember it takes four or five drinks in an hour to reach the legally acceptable .08 BAL. Do your own experiment and see if you want to be in a car driven by you after you have had four or five drinks in an hour. And that is without any of the other circumstances we have discussed.
What then should we do? The BAL sounds all right but really isn't. And in today's polysubstance-using environment, the presence of other driver impairing drugs, many of which are prescribed, makes determining the level of impairment from alcohol even more difficult. Some other countries that are much wetter than the U.S. do a better job with DUI because they are clearer about the issue. They either prohibit drinking and driving altogether or the sanctions are so severe that they are actually deterrents, like if you drink and drive, you don't drive again--ever. We are not so clear. In fact, we are ambivalent and so we have fashioned a system for dealing with DUI that doesn't work. This was not the first time that Britt Reid was drinking and driving. Actually, it probably was not the hundredth time either. It was probably not the first time that Bruce Springsteen was operating a motorcycle under the influence of something either. It would be easier if we were clear. It would be easier if we said: if you drink alcohol, then you don't drive. Instead, like counting the angels on the head of a pin, we say you can drink and drive as long as you don't drink too much. That is a tough call even when you're sober. It is nearly impossible after four or five drinks in an hour.