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Reporter test drives province’s new drinking rules

I am drunk. I don't need a breath analysis test to tell me that two drinks in half an hour – before noon – have given me a warm, fuzzy, carefree feeling. I tell the police officer there's no way I would drive. Maybe in an hour or so I'd reconsider.

Fifteen minutes after I put down my second drink, I blow into the Alco-Sensor FST hand-held device that police use during roadside check stops. It was part of a Calgary Police Service experiment at its traffic office on Wednesday morning for reporters to test Alberta's new rules that increase penalties for drivers with blood alcohol levels of 0.05 to 0.08.

"Caution" flashes on the breath analysis test. I have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.06 per cent or above – at least 60 milligrams of alcohol for every 100 millilitres of blood. I could even be over the Criminal Code's threshold of 0.08.

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As of Sept. 1 in Alberta, as a first-time offender in the "warning range" of 0.05 to 0.08, I would face an immediate three-day licence suspension and vehicle seizure. The seizure cannot be appealed.

Second-time offenders will get a 15-day licence suspension, seven-day vehicle seizure and a mandatory one-day course on impaired driving. The vehicle seizure can be appealed. The licences of third-time offenders will be suspended for 30 days, their vehicle will be impounded for seven days (which can be appealed) and they will have to attend a weekend residential education program.

Previously, people with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.05 received a 24-hour suspension.

The changes were designed to use provincial legislation to crack down on drivers who are not drunk enough to be criminally impaired. After being tabled last fall, they were derided by civil libertarians, small businesses and right-wing critics, and became a touchstone issue in last spring's provincial election.

Most provinces now have warning-range rules.

In 2010, 96 people died and 1,384 were injured in alcohol-related crashes in Alberta. Still, opponents pledged to challenge the new rules in court.

Sergeant Richard Butler says the purpose of the sedately titled "alcohol dosing session" was to simulate a boozy business lunch or after-work cocktails. We drink for an hour or so, and then police repeatedly administer breath analysis tests.

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Four female reporters take part in Mad Men-style morning boozing.

10:35 a.m. – I empty 1.7 ounces of Baileys into what's left of my coffee. This wouldn't be unusual far earlier in the morning during a ski vacation.

10:42 a.m. – One drink down, I start six ounces of white wine already poured into a plastic cup. A Gewürztraminer from California's Fetzer vineyard. I look at the label: "It's often called 'gavurtz' because it's hard to say, and even harder to spell." I ask police for a sure sign of a drunk driver: "People who won't roll their windows down. ... The guy driving down the road at –30 with the windows open," Sgt. Butler said.

11:06 a.m. – Wine gone. Other reporters are blowing fails after one drink and are told to wait 15 minutes for mouth alcohol to dissipate. I eat mozzarella and tomato salad. Break out sushi.

11:21 a.m. – Police ask if I would drive. No way. Feeling tipsy and flushed. I blow a "caution."

11:25 a.m. – Cops pour a second glass of gavurtz. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's list of symptoms says that, at this level of inebriation, I would have reduced co-ordination, problems steering and lack of ability to track moving objects and respond to emergencies.

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11:40 a.m. – Third and final drink gone. I look at what I've been tweeting. The typos.

11:58 a.m. – Another "caution." The three other reporters, who were one drink behind, didn't get anywhere near 0.05, but agreed they felt they shouldn't drive. I'm a lightweight. Police say having only yogurt and fruit for breakfast didn't help, and also, "You tried harder."

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About the Author
Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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