The downside of driving sober in Oregon

Oregon live

By Steve Duin, The Oregonian
on January 06, 2010 at 5:00 PM

 

The ring tone woke me — at 1:30 a.m. Christmas night — from such a leaden sleep that I slapped the alarm clock for five seconds before realizing my panic was misdirected.

My 22-year-old daughter, Christina, was calling me on the cell phone. She was at the Gemini Pub in Lake Oswego. She needed a ride home.

Fair enough. Whenever my twentysomething kids are celebrating near alcohol, I’m on 24-hour call. I hopped into the Subaru and headed into L.O. Christina was waiting in the parking lot between the Gemini and Lakeside Bicycles.

So were two Lake Oswego police patrol cars.

As I swung into the alley behind the pub, one squad car followed me onto A Street. If there’s nothing like the misery of knowing a cop with a radar gun has you dead to rights, it’s calming when you think you have nothing to worry about. I drove the speed limit, kept an eye out for crosswalks, remained in the center of my lane …

And somehow wasn’t surprised when the cop hit his dome lights just shy of Our Lady of the Lake.

The officer said he pulled me over because I was “weaving” over the center line. I ignored my first impulse — that is, to say, “You and I both know that’s not true” — and handed him my license and registration.

He was gone all of 90 seconds before he returned my papers and bolted back toward the Gemini. Twelve days later, I’m still not sure how I feel about the encounter.

By the time I got home that night, the initial irritation had been replaced by the consolation of the teachable moment: My daughter had just received another powerful reminder about those on the lookout should she ever hop into a car with someone who’s been drinking.

What’s more, if the L.O. cops are that hyperactive, it stands to reason that L.O. neighborhoods are much safer for several people I love.

“There’s a reason our crime stats are pretty low,” police Chief Dan Duncan said Tuesday. “We’re out there rolling rocks and stopping cars. It helps to keep the public safe and the drunks off the road.”

In that case, I reasoned, I can live with the inconvenience wrought by the bogus “weaving” gambit.

Then I spoke with John Henry Hingson.

The Oregon City attorney is the author of “How to Defend a Drunk-Driving Case,” and one of the area’s best at it. While he applauds the Oregon Supreme Court’s decision to rule “suspicionless roadblocks” unconstitutional, he thinks the courts have given police far too much leeway to “hook the innocent in their dragnet enterprise.”

In fact, Hingson said, had that L.O. cop smelled alcohol in the ol’ Subaru on Christmas night, the Oregon Court of Appeals says he has probable cause to arrest me for DUII.

(As Justice Susan Leeson said in her dissent to the court’s 1995 ruling, “Taxi drivers are among those who will be interested to learn that, if they are called to pick up an intoxicated passenger at a tavern in the early hours of the morning and … (fail) to signal a lane change, they are at risk for being arrested for DUII.”)

Duncan readily concedes that police have no shortage of legal ways to pull a driver to the curb: “If I followed you for three miles, I’m going to find two reasons to stop you. We pull a lot of bad guys off the street doing that.”

But he says it’s a stretch to think that taxi drivers and sleepless fathers have anything to worry about. Duncan believes you can trust the cops. Hingson suggests you can’t.

And I’m weaving somewhere in between. I’ve long known driving drunk is indefensible … but it’s a bit disconcerting to discover that, under Oregon law, driving stone-cold sober might have its own share of unintended consequences.

Steve Duin

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