4am, Saturday morning. I was heading home from a night out drinking. It’d been a long evening, starting with after work drinks and continuing into town. Even though I’d put away quite a few over the course of the night, I felt pretty good about driving. I’d slowed down over the last couple of hours, and had capped off the night with a nutritious meal at Burger King.
Still, when I saw the flashing lights on Hobson Street, I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence. I was about to unwittingly become part of the police’s weekend drink-drive blitz.
Thinking surprisingly quickly given the late hour, I immediately pulled over in front of the entrance to a parking building. Better to be towed I thought, than to risk losing my license. I got out, locked my car, and wandered towards the checkpoint. I spied a young policeman standing on the footpath.
"Excuse me officer, I was thinking about driving [okay, a small lie] but I’ve had a few drinks. Is it possible to breath-test me to see whether I’m okay to drive or not?"
“No, sorry we can’t do that.”
“What do you mean? Of course you can”
“No, the only way I can test you is if you drive through the checkpoint.”
“And if I fail there, you’ll arrest me.”
“But you can’t tell me now, before I break the law?”
I don’t know about you, but I found this pretty ridiculous. Surely somewhere within the phrase “safer communities together” lies the ability to help someone determine whether they are breaking the law and putting the general public at risk. I kept arguing. The young officer agreed it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but said his hands were tied; he had no discretion in this matter.
Until, that is, the friend I was dropping home mentioned we were journalists.
Out came the bag, in went my breath, and I passed with the slightly misleading “Fail Youth” result. I returned to my car, waited 15 minutes just to be sure, then drove towards the checkpoint. Ironically my car was simply waved through– they were obviously only stopping every third or fourth car.
Relating this to my pals as we squinted through the fog of Saturday night’s game, it turned out an acquaintance had also been stopped that night. Fearing the worst (she’d been drinking), as she sat in the queue to be tested, she decided to relax… by having a quick toke in her car. Yeah, I know.
When her time came to be tested, she didn’t even register on the most basic test (the one where you say your name and address, and any alcohol on your breath is supposed to produce a fail). The policeman had slightly better honed senses however, smelt the ‘erb, and cautioned her under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
“Is there anything in the car you’d like to show me before I search it?”
Helpfully, she rifled through the glovebox and handed over an E with the rest of the joint.
Helpfully, he threw them both on the ground, stomped them into the road, and told her to drive carefully.
Now that’s discretion.
[Disclaimer: Drinking and Driving is NEVER COOL. You will note both drivers in this story were under the limit. Whether the acquaintance should've been driving after finishing off a joint is another argument for another day.]