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Hashing & the DUI Threat

Pick’n'Flick and I went to a party Saturday night. On the way home we encountered a sobriety checkpoint. In years past, I wouldn’t have been particularly concerned. I don’t drink much when I know I’m driving home afterward, and if I do decide to drink Pick will refrain and do the driving for me (better she than me, I always say). But these days, sobriety checkpoints are a far more menacing proposition than they used to be.

Back in the day, the standard for impairment was a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15%. Statistically, according to the insurance industry and the American Medical Association, drivers who were involved in serious alcohol-related accidents had BACs in excess of .15%. But over the years, the standard of impairment dropped, first to .10% BAC and then to .08%. Today, there are bills in state legislatures proposing an even lower standard of .05% BAC.

But don’t bother memorizing all those numbers. Out in the real world we now have “zero tolerance,” a law enforcement doctrine that says any level of alcohol is unacceptable and grounds for a driving under the influence (DUI) arrest . . . which means you can be DUI’d with a BAC of .01%. You can be DUI’d if you had one glass of wine with dinner. Here in Tucson, our county sheriff is a leading proponent of zero tolerance, so this is hitting close to home.

Another alarming development is the involvement of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), not only in the ongoing crusade to lower impairment standards, but in sobriety checkpoints. Today, in many states, MADD volunteers “assist” police at sobriety checkpoints.

You know, there’d be an absolute uproar if the US Border Patrol accepted help from anti-immigration activist groups like the Minutemen. But when it comes to anti-drinking MADD activists manning police sobriety checkpoints, few are brave enough to speak out against it. We’re cowed by MADD: after all, how can you argue with someone whose son or daughter was killed by a drunk driver? But it’s nonetheless wrong for law enforcement to allow MADD involvement in sobriety checkpoints. MADD has become a case study in mission creep; once a group dedicated to getting seriously drunk drivers off the road, it has morphed into a modern-day temperance society, pushing a prohibitionist agenda. Ah, but enough of that rant.

At the party Saturday night, I swilled a moderate amount, moderate for me anyway: three or four glasses of wine. Since Pick’n'Flick drank only one, I asked her to drive. But when we saw the traffic jam and flashing cop lights up ahead, we both started looking for a detour. Under zero tolerance, Pick’n'Flick would have been just as ripe a bit of DUI bait as I was. We knew the police would likely have cruisers posted on side streets, and of course they did, but we lucked out: the cop on the side street we picked was busy giving a field sobriety test to another, less lucky driver.

And that’s what it’s come down to: a gamble, a game of luck. If you’re lucky, you won’t hit a sobriety checkpoint. If you do, you lose: if you’ve had even one beer, you’re not going to skate through it.

When it comes to drinking, more particularly drinking and driving, we’re a schizophrenic society. Sports bars, pubs, and fully licensed restaurants flourish, their parking lots nearly always full. All those cars – 90% of them anyway – are driven home by impaired drivers, now that any level of alcohol is the de facto standard. Most adult Americans – that would be me and you, buddy – drink and drive. And yet we say we want zero tolerance? We say we want the cops to arrest drivers who’ve had even one drink? Really?

No, I don’t think that’s what we want. If I were a cynic, I’d say what we really want is zero tolerance applied to other drivers, not ourselves. Me and you, buddy, we’re perfectly okay with one or two beers; it’s those other drunks who’re causing all the problems.

But seriously, what’s needed is for law enforcement to return to a realistic, useful, enforceable impairment standard: in my opinion, .10% BAC. I think MADD is out of control. I think expanding the DUI net to catch all drivers who drink, regardless of the amount, has little to do with safety and a lot to do with revenue. I think, eventually, commercial interests (bar and restaurant owners, along with the liquor industry) will demand a return to realistic BAC standards.

But until that happens, I suggest hashers think seriously about what zero tolerance means to them and to hashing in general. We’ve always been pretty good about discouraging those who want to drink too much, and keeping those who do from driving. But almost all of us enjoy a few beers after the run, and almost all of us drive home with some level of alcohol in our blood. And when I say we’ve been “pretty good” I mean we sometimes fail: right here in Tucson, at least three hashers are currently working off DUI convictions, and several more have DUIs on their records. Nationwide, many hashers have landed themselves in life- and career-ruining DUI hell. Unfortunately, DUI is a skeleton in hashing’s closet, something we prefer not to think or talk about. Well, it’s time to drag that skeleton into the circle and give it a down-down!

In spite of the ever-increasing DUI hysteria, we hashers aren’t about to change our lifestyles or our favorite recreational activity. We’re going to continue to drink beer after our runs. But many of us, I bet, are starting to take the kinds of precautions Pick’n'Flick and I are taking: drinking less; staying home from evening hashes and pub crawls; skipping on-afters after afternoon hashes; and asking mismanagement to pack away the beer coolers after the circle, stop forcing multiple down-downs on individual hashers, and start actively pushing designated driver programs.

And for G’s sake, I wish hashers would quit running around telling anyone who’ll listen that we’re a “drinking club with a running problem.” First of all, it’s not even true. Second, it quit being cute several thousand repetitions ago. Third, it invites scrutiny.

Scrutiny? You bet. Shortly after the post-9/11 anthrax scare, the Tucson Fire Department called every member of our mismanagment committee to ask that we quit marking trails with flour because we were alarming the public and creating unnecessary work for the HAZMAT response team. TFD got our phone numbers off our home page. Let there be no doubt, the Man knows who we are and how to find us. Enough DUIs and the Man will make a connection between hashing and drinking. If he does, we’ll become a target.

So I have a new motto: “Moderation in all things . . . including hashing.” Damn it.

By the way, if you’re interested in DUI issues, enforcement, and trends, you can do worse than to start here.

- Flying Booger

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