It's 5 p.m. on Friday and you can't wait to get over to the lounge to socialize with your buddies.
Wrapping it up at 7 p.m. so you can get showered up for a dinner date, you jump in the car and head home. Heck, it was only one or two glasses of wine -- or was it three? -- you think. You must be OK as you're not slurring your words; you're not stumbling over your feet; you don't even have trouble getting the key into the ignition.
But does that mean you're ready to navigate rush-hour traffic? A good rule of thumb: If you have to ask yourself, you shouldn't be behind the wheel. Period.
It's kind of a trick question, really. The correct answer -- at least the one we tell our children -- is not to drive after you've had even just one drink. We take enough chances driving every day, there's absolutely no reason to increase your odds of being injured or killed by consuming even the slightest amount of alcohol.
And with companies stepping up to offer pocket breathalyzers, the lame excuse, "just didn't know I was too loaded to drive," becomes even more mute.
For not much money (about $50 and up, depending on the model, based on a few eBay auctions), you can pick up a pocket unit from www.bactrack.com that you just blow into. Or if you want something even more discreet, the BreathKey is at the ready on your keychain and is claimed to use the same technology that the police use. It's available at www.amazon.com starting at about $70.
In a couple of seconds you know your blood alcohol level via a digital readout and just how quickly you should hand over the keys or call a cab.
n Alcohol is linked to 41 percent of all motor-vehicle-crash fatalities in the United States (that's four out of 10, people) and an estimated 1 million injuries each year. Project yourself into a crash situation: Could you live with yourself after injuring or killing someone because you should not have been behind the wheel after drinking? Every time you get behind the wheel it's there with you. This, of course, presumes you're not thinking about it from jail and that you yourself are still alive and able to think.
n Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System recently reported that alcohol-related car crashes result in more severe injuries because alcohol reduces the body's ability to withstand the impact of a crash. Alcohol also thins the blood and could cause greater blood loss in the event of a crash, whether alcohol was even a factor in the crash itself.
n You might lose your car, your license, your job, your self-respect and your freedom. Living with the memory of running someone over when you thought you were OK to drive is a life sentence in and of itself. You're not taking only one life in the accident: You're robbing your friends and family of a lifetime with you. Think about all the birthdays and holidays and graduations you would miss if you're incarcerated because you thought, maybe even just once, that driving home drunk was OK.
So, with the consumer products available that allow anyone to test their consumption, there's really no excuse for DUI charges and alcohol-related crashes, right? Perhaps law enforcement and the courts should take this into consideration the next time they pull someone over for driving under the influence. Since it's becoming easier to know your condition, perhaps the punishment for law-breakers should be greater.
In some cities in the world, third parties who knowingly allow an inebriated person to drive can be charged with a crime, too. In parts of Japan, passengers riding in a car being operated by a drunk driver can potentially lose their driving privileges. Could a version of this legislation help here?
There are few things more sobering for a drunk driver than a shot of stiff punishment, straight up, to make them think twice about getting in the car and taking the chance.
They might make it home tonight, or next weekend, but, sooner or later, their luck will run out.
Rhonda Wheeler is a journalist with Wheelbase Communications, a worldwide supplier of automotive news, features and reviews. You can e-mail her by logging on to www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html.