Lowering the legal limit: CHP driving test simulates DUI - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Lowering the legal limit: CHP driving test simulates DUI

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended lowering the threshold for drunk driving to a blood alcohol level of .05; that's down from the current level of .08.

With the help of the California Highway Patrol, News 8 participated in a drunk driving test on a closed track to demonstrate impairment at lower alcohol levels.

In the old days, test track drivers would actually get drunk to demonstrate the effects of alcohol on driving. Today, the CHP uses so-called "fatal vision goggles" to simulate the disorienting effect of drunk driving.

The goggles used for our test simulated a .07 blood alcohol level.

"Just barely above where the (NTSB) recommendation is by the national standards, and still below where we're at right now," said CHP Officer Brian Pennings, who supervised the DUI test.

At the recommended level of .05 blood alcohol, a typical 170 pound man would be close to the DUI limit after consuming three beers. A typical 120 pound woman would reach .05 blood alcohol level after about two beers.

Keep in mind, an individual's blood alcohol level will vary depending on a person's sex, weight, body fat percentage and metabolism rate.

For our test, the first driving track setup was a slow weave through a simple slalom course. News 8 reporter Carlo Cecchetto put on the goggles and hit three cones.

On test track number two, the slalom course got wider the goggles made it difficult to navigate to the point where Cecchetto actually slammed into a cone.

"I don't think I was supposed to hit that one that way," said Cecchetto.

"These (goggles) do make you a little disoriented. It's not that it just makes things blurry, it messes with your equilibrium a little bit," Cecchetto said.

Next up was the parallel parking test, where Cecchetto had to navigate into a parking spot and keep the vehicle straight. With the goggles simulating a .07 blood alcohol level, it was difficult to park and the vehicle ended up sticking out about a foot too far.

"What we had you do here today is relatively easy and very, very low speeds. Imagine going at highway speeds or on the roadway, where stuff can happen in an instant in front of you," said Officer Pennings.

Next, Pennings administered a field sobriety test.  With the DUI goggles in place, Cecchetto could barely take a few steps without losing balance.

No matter what the legal limit is for alcohol, Pennings said, it's better to avoid driving altogether if you've been drinking.

"I'm a little bit startled at how much of an effect it had on me," remarked Cecchetto following the DUI test. "I really thought at .07 I would be able to negotiate these things, especially the field sobriety test."

Currently, the NTSB suggested blood alcohol level of .05 is just a recommendation. However, the federal government is considering offering incentives to states that adopt the lower DUI standard.

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