Brigid Schulte's Oct. 12 front-page article, "Single Glass of Wine Immerses D.C. Driver in Legal Battle," was dismaying. It is unreasonable to have such a low alcohol level allowed, especially when so much research supports the 0.5 percent standard. It is not acceptable that the police would have such discretion in applying the test. Zero tolerance goes beyond the bounds of reason and invites abuses.
What the District's policy is effectively saying is that the city's restaurants can't sell a glass of wine or beer at dinner (or otherwise) to anyone who is likely to drive afterward, no matter that they can drive legally in Maryland or Virginia. In other words, I should never drive into the District to have dinner again.
LOUIS S. THOMPSON
D.C. police officer Dennis Fair stopped Debra Bolton because she was driving at 12:30 a.m. without headlights. Whether you think that what happened to Ms. Bolton after that was right or wrong, Mr. Fair was doing his job -- risking his life daily to try to keep law and order, in exchange for modest wages.
I find it absurd and insulting to District residents and visitors that in a city with chronic violent crime and growing gang violence, a police officer would spend so much of his shift on the arrest of a woman whose crime was having one glass of wine with dinner.
Even worse is that the D.C. court system spent more time and energy pursuing the woman, whose offense seems to have been to be "excited," "carefree" and "cocky" in the presence of an officer all too willing to take the District's vague DUI rules to the extreme.
Debra Bolton clearly sees herself as a victim, but laws on drunken driving and driving under the influence have been broadly stiffened since the 1980s. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopted a nationwide program more than a decade ago because of the number of deaths and injuries resulting from drivers who get behind the wheel after a little alcohol. Perhaps if Ms. Bolton had taken a moment to consider how her actions might have affected people sharing the roads with her that night, she would be less incensed at the arresting officer and more so at herself.
D.C. police Inspector Patrick Burke expressed concern about the economic consequences of such an arrest policy and advised that people should know their limits. The point of the law change is that people consuming alcohol cannot accurately judge their limits.
As a mother of three and a member of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, I am comforted that Officer Dennis Fair is diligently educating the ignorant, however unsuccessful that may be in the end.
Recent articles suggested that anyone who has a drink and gets into a car is subject to arrest and prosecution for drunk driving in the District. This is false.
A person who has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 will be arrested in the District for driving while intoxicated. This is in keeping with the national standard.
The American Medical Association, however, has recommended that the limit be lowered to .05 to recognize that impairment often begins at that level. That belief is reflected in the District's law, which allows blood alcohol content between .05 and .07 to be considered prima facie proof of impairment. This means that people will have the opportunity to demonstrate that they were not impaired at that level, and if they can do so, they will not be convicted.
Generally, anyone found to have a BAC lower than .05 isn't arrested or is not prosecuted. But for those who refuse to allow testing to determine their BAC level, officers have to rely on other signs of impairment. These signs include poor driving or other failures to operate a vehicle properly; physical indicators -- including bloodshot eyes, flushed face, dilated pupils, vomiting or slurred speech; belligerent or unusual behavior; and poor performance on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's field sobriety tests.
The charge of driving under the influence also is used when someone is suspected of being under the influence of drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol. If, therefore, there are significant indications of impairment, it is possible to be arrested for DUI when a person has no registered BAC.
The articles are correct that drivers cannot assume they will avoid prosecution if their blood alcohol content is less than .08. Instead, they should ask themselves before getting behind the wheel: "Am I safe to drive?" That is the question that concerns all law enforcement officers seeking to protect those who live, work or spend time in the District.
ROBERT J. SPAGNOLETTI
District of Columbia
Why do we have laws if the police enforce whatever they want to, not the actual statutes? Shall we have "zero tolerance" for speeding, so that a driver going under the speed limit can be stopped, ticketed and thrown in jail?
If the issue is impairment, any place you go, you will see people driving while using cell phones, oblivious to traffic conditions when the conversation becomes too absorbing. I have seen cars come to a standstill in the middle of the road, poke along or wander from lane to lane -- and it doesn't matter if the cell phone is hand-held or strapped to one's head. The impairment is a result of driver inattention, not the device.
How about a little rationality in enforcement?
NANCY B. WEIL