Save a life: Designate a driver when you’re drinking

How much alcohol is too much for me to safely drive my car? That is a question often asked of police officers.

Although the question seems simple, the answer is not so simple. Many factors determine a personís intoxication level.

The type of alcohol being consumed: 3.2 percent beer versus 6 percent beer, wine, whiskey, bourbon and tequila all have different dispersion rates in the body.

How the alcohol is consumed also factors in. Was it mixed with other fluids or taken straight?

The height, weight and gender of the drinker all affect how quickly alcohol is absorbed in the bloodstream.

Whether or not you ate before you started drinking, how quickly alcoholic drinks are consumed and how often you consume alcoholic beverages also play a part.

As you can see, itís not easy to answer that question, so most officers will tell you to not consume any alcohol before you drive to be on the safe side.

There are many reasons for that response Ė not just because itís the easy answer.

In 2011, the Durango Police Department arrested 348 people for driving under the influence of alcohol, 20 for driving under the influence of drugs and 24 for driving while ability impaired by alcohol. Since Jan. 1, Durango police have arrested 193 for DUI, 12 for DUID and 10 for DWAI.

On average, each DUI arrest takes an officer 2Ĺ hours to complete from the time of the stop through the finished paperwork. Itís not the paperwork that officers donít like; since 2001, the Durango police have responded to five fatal accidents where alcohol was a factor. Thatís just the Durango Police Department, and itís five too many.

Officers and rescue workers see firsthand the carnage and gruesome scenes these accidents cause. We carry those images, smells, sounds and, sometimes, tastes with us for the rest of our lives.

Durango is a small community, and often we are the first on scene to an accident involving someone we know. Thatís not the worst part, though.

When I was beginning my career as a police officer, I had to deliver a death message to a young mother of three. Her husband was killed by a drunken driver on his way home from work. Nothing can prepare you for delivering that message.

She answered the door with a 2-year-old toddler clinging to her leg. I stumbled through the words, and she collapsed into my arms crying uncontrollably. I had nothing to offer in the way of comfort.

This was a senseless waste of a human life that easily could have been prevented. You go on about your daily life, but you never forget something like that. Families are destroyed, and they are never whole again. Never.

As you go out to have a good time, please remember to drink responsibly. Any amount of alcohol and driving do not mix. You can prevent senseless tragedies from happening. Always designate a driver. The life you save may be your own.

Lt. Ray Shupe is assistant operations division commander with the Durango Police Department.