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Read our series in The Patriot Ledger Nov. 15-18, 2003.
A Patriot Ledger series: Summary | PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | UPDATES


No jail for 85% convicted
2nd-time offenders already addicted, experts say
Lawyers advise: Refuse blood-alcohol test
Testing the breathalyzer


Michael Carey
Robert Dixon
Silvio L. Marangiello
Kevin R. McPhee
Mary Seaton
Gerard Sheehan
Mark E. Sullivan


TIMELINE: How Massachusetts drunken driving law has changed
Alcohol's causes and effects
How local and state courts treat repeat drunken drivers
Busiest courts in state for drunken driving arraignments

The cost of drunken driving

Massachusetts fails compared with other states
Death toll from drunken driving

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Assignment: Find out how to get to .08

It doesn’t take long to get there
– and it sometimes doesn’t show

Associated Press
Nancy Burns, director of Massachusetts State Police of Alcohol Testing, right, demonstrates for Massachusetts State Trooper Stephen Mullaney a new breathalyzer machine

Most people understand that having a blood alcohol content of .08 means you are legally too drunk to drive. But how do you know when you're there?


A blood alcohol test measures the percentage of alcohol by volume of blood.

A level of .10 percent - which is more than the .08 level considered too drunk to drive in most states - means there is just under one gram of alcohol for every 1,000 grams of blood in the body.

Blood alcohol concentration can be measured by a blood test, but is most often measured by a breath test given by police.

Source: Boston University School of Public Health

What does .08 feel like? Are you obviously drunk? Slurring your words? Laughing for no reason?

My assignment was to find out:

5 p.m. - Armed with a 12-pack of beer and a reporter friend whose job it is to observe me, I arrive at the Braintree police station one night to get drunk.

I open my first Sam Adams while Lt. Wayne Foster, who has 20 years of experience on the job, stands by in another room with a blood alcohol testing machine.

I grab a seat and start chugging.

5:15 p.m. - I open my second beer. I have a little trouble with the bottle opener, but manage.

5:42 p.m. - I'm ready to start my third beer. I feel fine. I think I look fine, but my reporter friend later tells me I'm a little glassy-eyed, that I'm laughing and talking more.

6 p.m. - I've nearly finished my third beer. There are slight differences between the words I form in my head and what actually comes out of my mouth.

"It's weird to be drunk around sober people," I tell Foster and my reporter friend.

They laugh, which I find odd; I was trying to be serious.

6:14 p.m. - I feel a little drunk now, but I pass a field sobriety test. That means I'm able to recite the alphabet, walk 10 steps in a straight line, close my eyes, lean my head back and touch my fingertip to the tip of my nose.

Based on the results of the sobriety test, Foster says he probably would have let me go if he'd stopped me while driving.
Click here or on thumbnail above to view graphic showing alcohol's causes and effects

6:20 p.m. - Six minutes after passing the field sobriety test, Foster administers a blood alcohol test, and Surprise! I'm legally too drunk to drive. I blow into a long plastic tube for about 10 seconds. Several minutes later a print-out shows that I measured an .084.

It took only three beers and less than an hour and a half to exceed the limit. Foster is surprised it happened so quickly, even given my small size. A larger person could probably consume more without hitting the mark. The amount of food in a person's stomach also plays a role.

Bottom line is I don't feel particularly drunk. In a social situation, I'd think I was fine to drive. And I'd be wrong.

6:22 p.m. - I start my fourth beer. I drink this one more slowly than my first beer, sipping for nearly half an hour instead of 15 minutes.

6:50 p.m. - I pass a second field sobriety test, though this time it requires greater concentration.. I feel moderately drunk, but still feel like I am in control of myself.

7:05 p.m. - Foster gives me a second blood alcohol test and I fail again, this time measuring .11. This is more surprising than the first test. At this level, I had assumed I'd have a hard time talking or walking in a straight line. That isn't the case.

7:15 p.m. - I call a friend for a ride and leave the police station with the remaining eight beers. I get into the passenger seat of her car and she drives me home.

Do I feel like I can drive home safely? Yes.

But I'm not about to find out.

Jessica Fargen may be reached via E-mail by .



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