[Paleopsych] WP: Dr. Gridlock: Balanced Views on a Roadside Sobriety Test

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Fri Jan 6 03:44:53 UTC 2006

Balanced Views on a Roadside Sobriety Test

[I practiced the art of standing on the MetRoRail without holding onto 
anything. It took me several weeks, but now I can do so even when the train 
sways from side to side, as it does from Farragut North to MetRo Center and 
from Van Ness to Tenleytown. But the worst, at least on the trains I have 
takes, is the trip between Union Station and Rhode Island Avenue. Not only does 
the train sway from side to side, it goes up and down and the speed is quite 

[Learing to balance myself on the MetRoRail helps me enormously when I am out 
running over ice. When I stumble or slip, my brain has been trained enough so 
that I rarely fall down. This is especially important, since as I go down the 
stately march to senility at age 61, I don't heal nearly so rapidly as I used 

[I also practice standing on one foot with my hands over my head whenever I get 
a chance, like when waiting for or riding elevators. My co-workers often give 
me a puzzled look, but when I explain why, they are all smiles. And get 
puzzled, too, when I greet them brightly first thing on Monday mornings, 
saying, "Thank God it's Monday!" The puzzlement turns to smiles when I follow 
this up with saying, "I'm a workaholic."]

[People vary enormously in their ability to balance. I well remember the day 
when I was living in Little Rock--I was six or seven at the time--when Dad 
huffed and puffed up and down hills with me on my bike teaching me how to ride. 
Yet my brother, Dick, not then for he was 4 1/2 years younger than me but when 
he was about five, needed Dad not at all. He just got on his bike and rode 
away! He was later to become an excellent hockey player and still coaches the 
sport. But my experience with ice skating was abysmal. I was so cautious that 
it took me ten minutes to go once around the rink. I did not persist in 
learning ice skating. This was also true of skiing, though I did learn to 
roller skate, but never to roller blade, which activity was after my time.

[I hadn't ridden a bike since around 1967 when around 2000 I borrowed my older 
daughter's (Alice's) bike and went down the Capital Crescent Trail. I was 
extremely cautious for a few miles, but after that riding came back to me, and 
I was riding comfortably, though not as well as I did when I was a child.

[I learned the skill of double-clutching when my Austin-Healey 3000 did not 
syncromesh going down from second to first gear. This is twice as complicated 
as simple shifting. We haven't had a stick shift since our Volkswagen Beetle 
gave up the ghost in 1983. But I know I could at least single-clutch pretty 
well at once. Double-clutching would have to come back to me.]

    By Ron Shaffer
    Thursday, December 22, 2005; GZ13

Balanced Views on a Roadside Sobriety Test

    In a past column, an Annapolis man expressed concern that motorists 
suspected of
    drunken driving were sometimes asked by police to stand on one foot for 30
    seconds [Dr. Gridlock, Dec. 8]. He noted that people in his morning health 
    class couldn't hold that position for 30 seconds, and they were all sober.

    I replied that I can't do it either -- not even close. That prompted the
    following responses.

    Dear Dr. Gridlock:

    I am going on 71 years, do not engage in regular exercise and was able to 
    on one foot for 30 seconds. No problem at all -- on either leg.

    The gentleman may need to find a new exercise class!

    Mary Lucas

    Dear Dr. Gridlock:

    I will never forget the evening I was humiliated on the side of the road 
    being stopped for speeding. I was returning home from dinner, driving my 
    car faster than I should have been. I noticed a car coming from behind at 
    greater speed and immediately pulled over into the slow lane to let it go 

    To my surprise, the other driver was a state police officer, and he was 
    me over. He asked for my ID, and when I opened my purse, an empty beer 
    from the only drink I had had that evening was prominently visible. I had 
    it for the foreign label.

    He asked me to step out of the vehicle and undergo a number of tests. I 
    the "touch your nose" test and the "walk the line" test but was then asked 
    stand on one foot for a period of time. I pointed out that I was standing on
    gravel and wearing high heels, but that made no difference. Of course I 

    I was then forced to take the roadside breathalyzer test and passed 
    I went on my way with my speeding ticket but was completely rattled by the
    late-night roadside shenanigans. Although he was polite, the storm-trooper
    attitude the police officer assumed still rankles.

    Susan Guyaux

    Makes me wonder: Why not administer the breathalyzer test before the other

    Dear Dr. Gridlock:

    I can stand on one leg, either one, and count to 30 with no trouble. I'm 79, 
    maybe I've learned how to balance by now.

    Those people in the exercise class must all have a balance problem, or maybe 
    all stopped by the local tavern before going to class.

    Ed MacArthur

    I can't even come close to a 30 count. Maybe too many years of inhaling 

    Dear Dr. Gridlock:

    In response to your request for the information about the police roadside
    sobriety test, my understanding is that it's not the ability to stand on one 
    for a count of 30 that helps detect inebriation, but the manner in which you 
    about your attempt.

    Also, at least in Maryland, the field sobriety tests alone are not enough to
    convict: You must also fail a breathalyzer test. So even if you are 
miserable at
    the physical tests but pass the breathalyzer, they will let you go. 
Similarly, if
    you pass the physical tests but the breathalyzer shows your blood alcohol 
    to be above the legal limit, they will have a case.

    Sadly, I have been given the roadside sobriety and breathalyzer tests 
    times because I play in bands and work as a DJ and thus am (soberly) leaving 
    and nightclubs around closing time. Being on the road late at night 
apparently is
    enough probable cause to detain me and subject me to testing, irrespective 
of my
    driving performance.

    Eric Myers

    Well, I'm glad the ability to stand on one foot is not the sole indicator of
    one's sobriety.

A Changing Metro

    Dear Dr. Gridlock:

    Oh, great. Not only is Metro going to get rid of seats in subway cars, which 
    leave standees who aren't tall enough to reach the overhead poles with 
nothing to
    hang onto, but they're also going to get rid of the center vertical poles 
    the exits? Wonderful!

    I'm 5 feet tall, and I cannot reach -- or at least can't grip -- the 
    poles. I'm also not built like a linebacker, which means I can't force my 
    into the middle of a crowded car to grab hold of a seat rail.

    I'm not quite elderly, but getting there, and I have a bad back. The 
"elderly and
    handicapped" seats, when I can get one or find someone kind enough to 
    theirs, have been my salvation when using Metro. And, when I couldn't sit, I
    would hang on for dear life to that center pole. Now the seats are going, 
and the
    pole, too.

    How is someone like me supposed to use Metro? And why do they persist in 
making a
    subway ride more of an ordeal all the time? And where on Earth are those
    additional subway cars that have been on order for years now, which would 
make it
    possible to run six-car trains on all lines during busy hours?

    Why do fares keep going up and we get less service that is more a burden to 

    Me, I have the option to drive. I can add my bit to the city's pollution and
    gridlock. Thanks, Metro.

    Lynda Meyers

    Metro is not getting rid of any of the seats designated for seniors and the
    disabled. As part of tests of 24 reconfigured cars, all the vertical
    ceiling-to-floor poles are being eliminated, but many more vertical poles 
    being installed from the backs of seats to the ceiling. Further, 
    strap handles are being suspended from the overhead bars.

    That is being done to see if cars can be loaded, and unloaded, with more
    efficiency than the free-for-all that exists now.

    As for more cars, they are coming. Metro expects to have eight-car trains on 
    percent of its fleet by the end of 2006, 30 percent by the end of 2007 and 
    percent by the end of 2008.

    Dear Dr. Gridlock:

    I have been reading the suggested solutions to the difficulty of getting on 
    off Metro trains. If Metro can manage to fine-tune the brakes to allow 
people to
    line up on station platforms and have the train stop right in front of them, 
    could have riders entering in the middle and exiting on the sides.

    That would not require the removal of any seats.

    Liliana Ward

    Maybe. Removal of the vertical poles and seats around the center doors would 
    intended to spread standees throughout the cars, rather than block those 
    to board through the middle doors.

    I do hope Metro will try one-way boarding and exiting.

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