Plan to Party

How you can prevent getting a DUI

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Anytime friends and family get together and alcohol is served, you've got a party. That may not be all bad if all of those who are going to drink, plan to party. Inevitably, we read or hear about those killed, arrested or injured because of driving impaired. But it's possible to have a good time and still not put yourself or others at risk of getting caught in the "DUI trap."

Many of us have never been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI), but those who fail to plan before drinking are definitely at risk of being charged and convicted of DUI. My new book, "Plan to Party: How You Can Prevent DUIs," is a guide for taking a proactive approach to avoid the injuries or deaths associated with impaired driving. Many young people refer to drinking as "partying," and planning can certainly reduce the number of DUIs.

I'm specifically targeting those who occasionally imbibe alcoholic beverages, not alcoholics or those with known drinking problems. This book covers the history of alcohol in America, the types of alcoholic beverages, the amounts of alcohol in standard drinks, the effects of drinking alcohol, the duality of the criminal and administrative systems involved, simplified explanations of the DUI and administrative suspension laws, victims of DUIs and the different types of drinkers.

I wrote the book to help people learn the details surrounding a DUI while preventing the costs and indignities associated with the charge. If you've already been convicted of DUI, this book is a reminder not to lapse into old behaviors.

It's legal to drink alcohol if you are 21 years old or older. Drinking and driving while impaired by alcohol or other substances is a crime at any age. Although driving is involved, DUI is not a traffic offense. It is a crime.

By planning before you drink, you can ensure a happy ending to your happy hour. If you are responsible, you can drink and "party" without the risks involved in driving while impaired.

One of the major consequences of driving impaired is going to jail. As mentioned in Wes Denham's Crime City column, "A Hard Jail Is Good to Find" on Aug. 14, "Jacksonville has a hard jail." Police are not expected to transport impaired drivers home. After all, this is not Andy Griffith's Mayberry, and our jails are not fun to be enjoyed. Taxpayers would oppose spending the city's money providing luxuries for prisoners.

Most of my DUI students agree: "Jail sucks!" Even if incarceration isn't intended to make you miserable, it certainly isn't meant to be a pleasurable experience. I hear that everything associated with getting arrested and going to jail "sucks." I don't need to experience it personally to believe it. Experience is said to be the best teacher, but I prefer learning vicariously. I'll take the easy way of learning any day.

Denham's column stated that Jacksonville's jail is rock hard. The jails in Clay, St. Johns, Nassau and all the other neighboring counties are probably not much better. If being arrested is such a hard, humiliating experience, then you certainly wouldn't want to go back. The intent of the law is that you will not repeat your mistakes. Everyone should know that the same action/behavior yields the same results.

You probably don't have a clue how much money a DUI can cost you. I am even more certain that you could think of better ways to spend your hard-earned money. It's more than just fines and court costs. There are attorney fees, interlock devices, driver's license reinstatements, DUI school, lost wages, alternate transportation while your license is revoked, etc. A first DUI could cost $10,000 and could be a lot more.

Then there are the non-monetary costs, like depending on other people for transportation until your license is reinstated. The emotional uncertainty and stress that goes with having to beg for rides to and from work and other required appointments can quickly get old and often have adverse effects on relationships. If you live in Northeast Florida, you know that public transportation is somewhat lacking, making personal vehicles our primary mode of transportation.

Eighty-five percent of all of those who are arrested and jailed are usually also under the influence of some impairing substance: alcohol, drugs, medications or illegal or legal prescription substances. Had they not been impaired, would they have ended up in that predicament? Probably not.

DUIs only happen when you fail to plan before drinking. Collisions are preventable; if you are driving while impaired, you dramatically increase the chances of being in one.

As the saying goes, "When we fail to plan, we plan to fail." That's so true, at least subconsciously, if not consciously. You can be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem of impaired driving. You can party and live to laugh about it, rather than having to experience time in the slammer. The choice is yours.

Knowledge and understanding will empower you to make better choices. An impaired mind can only make impaired decisions. Make the important decisions before you drink any alcohol and eliminate all chances of thinking that you have no choice but to operate a vehicle while impaired. And that includes taking prescription medications, riding bicycles or operating watercraft.

Before you go out to party, be absolutely certain of how you're going to get home. Make your plans for transportation while you are completely sober. A little impaired is still impaired. If you don't have a plan for getting home, stay home. Don't let your friends and guests drive while impaired, either. If entertaining at home, you must plan for your guests, too. Friends don't let friends drive impaired.

Even small amounts of alcohol affect your brain, judgment and reaction time, lower inhibitions, and decrease your ability to reason. Many of my DUI students have dubbed the effects of alcohol consumption as "getting stupid." Alcohol makes you stupid, but in your impaired state, you think you get smarter — making it even worse. Don't take the term "stupid" personally; it's the nature of the substance, rather than a measure of your ability to handle your liquor. Alcohol is manufactured to cause impairment. The reason that we drink alcohol is to get impaired. So why should you expect different results?

There is no legal level of alcohol impairment while driving or while you have physical control of a vehicle. Forget about the misnomer "legal limit": Any amount of alcohol in your system will cause some degree of impairment. Was it your understanding that it's legal to drive impaired if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is below 0.08? Well, think again. Any amount of alcohol ingested into the body will cause some impairment. That makes it illegal to drive after drinking any alcohol at all. By statute, 0.08 BAC is only the "prima facie," or first, evidence of impairment. You are actually impaired long before reaching the illegal level. Therefore, you cannot drink and drive at any level legally. Should you gamble on your chances to avoid the police? Should you gamble on being impaired and still be able to deceive the authorities and actually drive safely? The answer is no. Is it worth the risk to try?

By having a plan before partying, you can definitely prevent getting a DUI. Think about it: If you don't play the game, you win every time. Since I'm not a gambler, I won't take the risks at all when it comes to impaired driving.

Since we all share the roadways and highways together, your decisions and actions affect me and everyone else — drivers, passengers and pedestrians — on the road. So please plan in advance. Please plan to party.

Holmes is certified by the Florida Supreme Court as a DUI instructor and facilitator. He teaches court-ordered DUI classes at the Northeast Florida Safety Council in Duval and Clay counties. He is both a retired U.S. Army officer and federal human resources manager. His passion is advocating for the prevention and reduction of impaired driving everywhere.

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