Dedicated to my best friend Kaly
Do you know someone who has been killed or injured because of drunk driving? After my best friend Kaly died, I decided to do a Science Fair Project on Alcohol and Drunk Driving.
I believe if more people knew about the science related to alcohol and intoxication then they wouldn’t use their feelings alone when deciding to drive after drinking. Too many people are too subjective when deciding whether or not to drive after drinking alcohol. If more people were educated to objectively plan in advance their alcohol drinking, then they wouldn’t drink and drive and put themselves or anyone else at risk for injury or death.
People get into trouble with alcohol because they are young and inexperienced, or because they have become complacent and tolerant to the dangers of alcohol. Regardless of someone’s experience with alcohol, if they would take the few minutes to plan ahead, they could still enjoy the benefits of alcohol while avoiding its harm.
Two months ago, on a cold Monday, our homeroom teacher Mrs. Reeves told us about the accident. A drunk driver barreling down Bering Hill ran a red light and crashed into Mrs. Jane’s station wagon. Mrs. Reeves said the car flipped over twice before landing on its side. Mrs. Jane died instantly, and Kaly was medevac’d to Attu, but she never made it. Kaly died in-route.
Mrs. Reeves asked us all for a moment of silence. I didn’t want to believe it. Instead, I looked at the door expecting it to swing wide open at any moment. Eventually, when it didn’t, I closed my eyes, and I didn’t want to open them again. I prayed for this not to be true. My eyes stayed closed until I felt Mrs. Reeve’s hand on my shoulder, sometime after the bell rang.
Kaly was my best friend. At her funeral, everybody meant well and spoke very kindly of Kaly but they didn’t know her like I did.
The weekend before she died, Kaly and I met at the Kuluk to talk about our science fair project. I wanted to do something on renewable energy, and Kaly wanted to do something on butterflies. I told Kaly caterpillars and pupae were gross, and butterflies weren’t as important as renewable energy. I could tell Kaly was angry, but instead of arguing she changed the subject. She wanted to talk about her next prank, and, of course, I had rolled my eyes.
After the funeral, I walked over to Candle Stick Bridge. We liked to come to the bridge with the rest of the gang after school. One day Kaly got into a fight because some of the boys wouldn’t stop throwing rocks at the seals. Kaly was like that. I remembered pretending like I didn’t notice the boys throwing rocks. With a big black and purple eye, Kaly told me afterwards not to be afraid next time. “Don’t pretend like you didn’t notice. How would you like for someone to throw rocks at you for no good reason?”
Remembering Kaly wasn’t going to be enough. Kaly didn’t have to die for nothing. That night after the funeral, I had a dream. I found myself on Paz Glacier, inside the crater of Mount Moffett. Snow was softly falling, and fog was beginning to form around me. Kaly was calling out my name. I wandered around the glacier, yelling out to her that I was here. The fog was getting so thick I couldn’t see my own hand in front of me. I tripped and fell, and then there was a silence.
I closed my eyes. I lay there imagining all this was another one of Kaly’s pranks. On that dreary day at school, after Mrs. Reeves broke the news and everybody was silent, the door did unexpectedly swing open, and Kaly did walk in, causally asking the class what they were doing. I wanted to believe that’s what really happened, and let the snow continue to cover me, burying me, forever, with that single thought.
But the door hadn’t opened. And this wasn’t one of her pranks. Kaly was gone, and I would never see her again. I slowly woke up from my dream, finding myself between two worlds. That’s when I promised Kaly I would never pretend again.
The following weekend, I went over to Fletcher Library and got on the internet. Mrs. Yamasaki let me stay on the whole day for one straight week. I wanted to research as much as I could about alcohol and drunk driving. All I knew about alcohol was during my weekend visits with my Dad. He and his friends would drink a few beers while cheering on the Rebels. I remember tasting beer once, and I almost puked.
Alcohol has a long history. No one can say for sure who invented alcohol but alcohol isn’t difficult to make. Yeast converts the sugars found in fruit or grains into alcohol and carbon dioxide. If you want to make wine for instance, all you have to do is crush grapes and let them ferment for a while.
For the longest time, people would make wine and other alcohol beverages and not understand the why and how. There were all sorts of weird theories. Ancient people thought that incantations, or spells, transformed sugary substances into alcohol. Alcohol was supposed to be the spirit of the sugary substance.
Back then, the same people thought the world was flat. Not that they were any different than to people today. They just didn’t have the same education like we have today. You would probably think the world was flat too if you lived back then. In the late 1800s, Louis Pasteur, a French Scientist, changed all that. He discovered that a microorganism called yeast converts the sugars into alcohol and not incantations or special rituals. Ever since then, people have been using science to make alcohol.
Scientists also discovered what happens to alcohol after a person drinks it. Alcohol is absorbed directly from the stomach and intestines into the blood stream. The alcohol then interferes with the neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain, causing a person to feel and act different. The liver slowly rids the body of alcohol by breaking it down to smaller, and safer, molecules because alcohol is actually poisonous to the body. The liver can only break down a certain amount of alcohol at a time. For example, on average, in one hour, the liver can only break down the alcohol found in one 12 oz. beer. So if a person drinks five beers, it will take their body five hours to rid itself of the alcohol. This means alcohol can build up in someone’s body faster than it can be eliminated.
I also learned that ancient people would drink alcoholic beverages for different reasons. They would mostly drink alcohol to celebrate special events like marriages, holidays, accomplishments, or social get-togethers. Very much for the same reasons why people drink today. The only difference is that ancient people didn’t have automobiles to travel to celebrations and then have to drive back home again.
Sometime after the invention of the automobile, people began noticing that anyone who drove intoxicated got into more accidents than people who drove sober. Scientists soon began documenting the relationship between the amount someone would drink and the way they would behave. For example, one to two alcohol beverages causes relaxation and generalized well-being; three to five causes impaired judgment; six to ten beers causes loss of coordination and a disassociation with reality; and, any more than eleven alcohol beverages could cause loss of consciousness and sometimes death.
Scientists developed tests that could measure the amount of alcohol in your body, and laws were passed so people wouldn’t drive intoxicated. There is a direct correlation between someone’s blood alcohol level and the number of alcohol beverages they drink. It was decided that anything over 0.08% while driving would be illegal.
At this point in my research, after reading about the science of alcohol and the ability for people to calculate their blood alcohol level, I had a pretty good idea what my science project hypothesis would be but I felt I still needed more.
I showed some of my notes to Mr. Steller, my science teacher. I asked him if there was anything more I could do to learn more about alcohol. He looked over my notes for a while. Resting them quietly on the table, he asked me how I was doing. I told him the truth. He was silent for such a long time that I was about to leave when Mr. Stellar finally spoke.
“You could interview people,” he told me, “you’re aren’t going to find every answer in a book or website.”
After thinking about the list of questions, I talked to my big brother Joe. I wanted to interview him and his friends. My brother said I was a stupid fifth grader, and I should do a science fair project on volcanoes like he did. I wanted to punch him in the face. Kaly would have. Mom finally yelled at him, and he let me do the interview.
First I asked him what he knew about alcohol and drunk driving. He told me that it was illegal to drive drunk, everyone knew that. I asked him for his definition of being drunk.
“It’s a feeling you get after you drink too many beers. You’ll have to experience it. I can’t describe it to you,” Joe said.
I then asked him how did he know he was too drunk to drive.
“I make a judgment call on how I feel,” Joe replied, “if I feel I can’t focus or react, then I don’t drive.”
But one time, he told me, he couldn’t help but drive drunk. About a year ago, on his twenty first birthday, around the time the Husky Club was closing, he slammed three shots of tequila. And, thirty minutes later, while he was driving to drop Eric off, that’s when it came back and hit him; he couldn’t focus on the road or traffic. He doesn’t remember how he made it to Eric’s apartment. Eric let him crash on the couch, and the next morning he woke up with a massive hangover.
I told Joe that the definition of being drunk wasn’t a subjective experience but an objective one that could be calculated and measured, in the same way people balance their check books or plan their vacation or retirement. He squinted his brown eyes at me. I told him, if you’re over 0.08%, scientists can calculate how many alcohol beverages you consumed within a certain time frame. Believe it or not, the body and mind react to alcohol more like a machine than an emotion, an opinion, or make-believe. I told him, “Joe, you of all people should know that!”
“You could calculated your blood alcohol level well in advance before you even start to drink if you wanted to,” I told him. “If you knew in advance the number of beers you’ll drink within a certain time frame, you could plan accordingly. You could plan for someone to give you a ride home, or you could call a taxi cab. Or, if you planned to drive after drinking alcohol, you would be secure in knowing you were well below 0.08%.
He protested, telling me that he didn’t have any problems with alcohol. I quickly replied that he did have a problem, “Don’t use your feelings and senses when deciding to drive after drinking; use you head!” Joe was silent. Shrugging his shoulders and sighing, he just walked away from me.
I went to bed and couldn’t sleep. When it comes to making decisions, people can be either objective or subjective, or they can be both. I read in my science textbook that people are subjective when they use their own moods, feelings, attitudes, and experiences to make decisions. Moods, feelings, attitudes, and experiences originate from within a person, and are not visible to other people. People are objective when they use math, logic, and facts that everybody can see and agree on. Math, logic, and science, do not naturally originate from within a person. They have to be learned, like reading, swimming or driving a car. People sometimes need to be subjective and sometimes they need to be objective, but most of the time people use a combination of the two to make decisions. As I fell to sleep, I had a feeling too many people were being more subjective, rather than objective, when it came to drinking and driving.
Joe’s friend Eric came by the house the next night. Eric told me he could drink twice the amount that he use to and still drive ok. He used to be able to drink five or seven beers before he got too drunk to drive. Now he drinks about ten or thirteen, with a shot or two, before he gets drunk. I asked him whether he thought he was safe to drive after that much alcohol. He said he felt fine to drive, so yes.
I told him just because he felt fine to drive, that didn’t mean his blood alcohol level was below the limit. We began to argue. He told me he didn’t need to calculate or plan in advance, and that he didn’t need to know about “no damn blood alcohol level.” He could decide for himself whether he was too drunk to drive. He was getting tired of science. It was ruining what it meant to be human. Mom came over and sent me to my room to cool off. As I walked out, I yelled out that I hated him!
I tried to catch up on some on my homework but couldn’t. I was really upset. People like to use science when it benefits them, but don’t like science when it doesn’t. I looked over and saw Kaly’s roller-skates. She left them here the last time we went to the Rink. Kaly could always beat me in a race but every once in a while she would let me win. We were always practicing. After Kaly’s Dad grounded her for no good reason one weekend, we talked about running away and joining the Animas Roller Derby Team. Kaly promised me we would never lose. I threw the skates across the room. I hated people like Eric! It’s all their fault.
I could interview his mom Haley, I thought to myself. She is much kinder.
Haley works at the Kuluk, a recreational center that has a bowling alley, a basketball gym that is used as a roller rink on Fridays, and a weight room. Haley works at the concession stand. Straight after school I went over to the Kuluk. Climbing up on the barstool, I waited for her to come over. The place was almost empty except for me, Haley, and a stranger I had never seen before.
“What are you up to?” Haley asked, while putting out her cigarette. I told her I was doing research. I told Haley about my science fair project to reducing drunk driving. I told her that I had learned that people could know in advance what their blood alcohol level would be before they even started to drink. I explained to her that if more people did that before they went out to drink, then they would know their limit and wouldn’t have to guess whether they were safe enough to drive home after drinking. “So, if someone planned to go out for three hours and drink, wouldn’t it be helpful if they knew how much they could drink so they would be safe to drive home afterwards? I asked. Haley nodded her head. She told me those where good ideas.
I told her I hated drunk drivers even more because of this. It wasn’t rocket science. I wanted them to be punished even more than they are now. “Was it ignorance that caused people to drive drunk, or was it laziness, or just not caring?” I asked Haley, angrily. Haley reach out for my hand but I pulled it back.
“I wish they would injure drunk drivers the same way they injure and hurt other people!”
Haley got silent as she turned away from me and looked out the window at the passing cars. I was beginning to hate it when people got silent. For an instant I thought she didn’t have anything to say but she did. As I was about to leave, she cleared her throat and said, “People don’t start out to drink alcohol thinking they will hurt someone afterwards. People start to drink alcohol because they want to celebrate and have a good time with friends and family. They want to be social and celebrate in a good way, or they want to unwind after a tough day at work.” I began to interrupt but Haley motioned me not to.
She told me she didn’t have a whole lot of compassion for drunk drivers, especially the repeat offenders, but that she did feel sorry for them. Alcohol affects judgment. She told me that once anyone starts drinking any plans they made in advance may go out the window. She told me about her uncle, “No matter how many times he told himself he was only going to have a few beers at social gatherings, he would always end up drinking way more than a few, and for some reason, he still thought that he was sober enough to drive.”
He finally had to go Alcoholic Anonymous after his second DWI but it was too late. He died several years later because his liver gave out at about the age some people get their last chance to change their life around. People become addicted to alcohol all the time. It ruins their relationships and health. They make poor choices when they’re sober, much more when they’re drunk.
“Alcohol does that, it changes your thinking and behavior.”
Haley agreed with me in a sense. For most people, knowing in advance how much they could drink within a certain period could prevent a lot of drunk driving especially with kids turning 21. But because alcohol affects judgment, some people will still drive drunk, no matter how much they know or plan. They change into a different person, an irrational person; they make wrong decisions that they normally wouldn’t make if they were sober.
“People are human and make honest to God mistakes.”
The stranger, who was over-hearing our conversation, suddenly interrupted and said, “People get into car accidents all the time when they’re driving legal, under 0.08%., or even when they’re sober! Alcohol is a problem, but it’s a problem we’re managing just fine right now. There are always going to be accidents, whether they are caused by alcohol or not. People are sometimes unpredictable and dangerous. The world is unpredictable and dangerous! You aren’t the only one who has lost somebody! We all have to live with the unfair risks the very day we are born, whether we know it or not! All you can do is have faith that it’ll all workout in the end.” Angrily, and fed up, I asked him what he meant by that, but Haley interrupted us. She demanded that the stranger get the hell out!
I didn’t wait. “Don’t make up excuses or fairy tales,” I yelled out, “I don’t live in the same world you do!” I got my backpack off the floor and ran home.
I didn’t like what they were saying, especially the stranger. I always believed accidents didn’t have to happen. Kaly and her mother didn’t have to die. Accidents were always preventable! I had hoped science could prevent drunk driving if more people were educated; if they got serious and sincere. But if someone changes into another person after drinking, then they would always be drunk drivers, and they would always kill and hurt other people.
Later in the evening, my Dad called me on his way home from the DMV. He asked me how my interviews were going. I told my Dad that I was discouraged and depressed. I was afraid there was no real solution to drunk driving. It is something that we just have to live with, like hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and cancer. I thought I could find an objective solution to drunk driving. The problem is that people aren’t machines; they’re human. And maybe there wasn’t a big problem with alcohol. Drunk driving was already being prevented, maybe as much as it could be. I doubted if I could do anything more. I told him I was thinking about quitting. I didn’t have any new ideas. I only had wishes.
My father was silent for a while. I felt like hanging up and going to my room. I didn’t feel like talking anymore. Just as I was about to hang up, he said, “Maybe you can’t completely prevent drunk driving but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying.”
He said my observation that too many people were subjectively deciding to drive or not drive after drinking alcohol was good. “More people should objectively plan in advance. You can’t blame people for being subjective especially if they never learned to be objective with their alcohol drinking in the first place,” Dad went on, “Even if you couldn’t prevent one person from drunk driving, Kaly would be proud that you tried!
“You remember the time you and Kaly went to Old Faithful.” I told him, yes. “Well, don’t forget!”
My Mom asked me how I was doing as I was returning to my room. I told her I was ok. I just got through talking with Dad. I told her I was thinking about asking Mildred to help me with an algorithm to calculate blood alcohol levels. My Mom said she would like to see our algorithm on calculating blood alcohol levels. She told me when she was younger that nobody told her about calculating alcohol blood levels. She was born and raised in Meadow Brook, population 2578. Her teacher just told her to not drive drunk. There’s not a lot of standardized information about alcohol and drunk driving when you think about it, she told me.
“They have standardized all sorts of phenomenon: religion, science, laws, politics, sports, driving tests, medicine, food, etc., etc. Why can’t they do the same for alcohol education?” Mom said, “When it comes to educating people about alcohol, everyone is not getting the same information about alcohol and drunk driving. Some people are slipping through the cracks!”
A week later, I came up with the following hypothesis.
“Drunk Driving can be reduced if more people are educated in objectively planning their alcohol related activities in advanced because too many people are subjective when deciding to drive after drinking alcohol.”
This could be accomplished by making it mandatory that every one take a standardized Alcohol Awareness Course when they apply for or renew their driver’s license, but only if they plan to drink alcohol. They will only be allowed to buy alcohol if they get the endorsement on their license. People who don’t drink alcohol don’t have to take the course.
What could be more important than devoting an hour or two to something preventable?
I told Joe about my hypothesis. He is studying to become a paramedic. “People aren’t going to like this,” he said, “especially people who don’t have a problem with alcohol.” But, after a moment, he added, “Maybe people should take the time, maybe an hour or two out of their life, to get serious about alcohol.”
“Alcohol is drug, a dangerous drug when abused. I’ve see it every night with my preceptor,” he told me, “Not only with drunk driving but with violence. Last night we had to take a young women over to South Anemone Hospital because her boyfriend stabbed her over some missing pills. They were both drunk and doped up. Alcohol and dope always seems to be mixed up with violence, crime, and poverty. But violence isn’t the only thing I have seen when it comes to alcohol. One time I had to take over a 54 year old male that was confused and vomiting blood. He had late stage cirrhosis and esophageal varices. He fought us all the way to the hospital. We finally had to strap him down. You should of seen it. The blood was everywhere!”
He told me that he didn’t know whether alcohol was to blame all the time but seriously educating people about alcohol wouldn’t hurt no one, especially the isolated, the less fortunate, and the less supported, among us!
“If anyone plans on getting plastered then they shouldn’t drive, maybe they should fly,” Joe paused waiting for my reaction but I knew better, “like flying to Las Vegas for the weekend.” I didn’t laugh. He told me to lighten up sometimes. I told to shut the hell up and get serious!
He then got serious and told me about Eric being busted for drunk driving over the weekend. Someone made an anonymous tip. He was twice over the limit. “He’s really in trouble,” Joe said while staring hard at me. I finally said, “I wonder who it was,” before turning away. I went to my room and began taping all my notes to the bedroom walls.
The next morning as I was walking to school I had a day dream. I dreamt that Kaly was frozen deep within the glacier. I could see her suspended in the ice. I looked up and saw the sun break free from the clouds before disappearing again. I remember patiently waiting for the sun to reappear.
“Will you wait for me long after the world ends?”
And, before I knew it, as the bell rang, I found myself walking up the steps to Permian Elementary.
I cornered my Mom as she was about to leave for her yoga class with my older sister Teresa. I showed her my algorithm. Joe’s girlfriend Mildred had helped me. I asked them what they thought.
Drunk Driving Prevention Algorithm
Estimate how many alcoholic beverages you plan to drink for the night.
How many hours do you plan to drink?
If you plan to drink as much as you can for as long as you can, then arrange for transportation home.
Calculate you future alcohol blood level.
Make the decision to either drive home safely after drinking alcohol or arranging for transportation to take you home.
The chart is easy to memorize. All you have to remember is what your percentage will be after one beverage, then after that just multiply that percentage by the number of beers you drink, and remember that your liver removes one alcohol beverage in one hour, no more, no less.
Then, I showed Mom and Teresa the questionnaire I made with Mildred. Teresa told me she was impressed and thought no one had any business drinking alcohol and driving if they couldn’t answer all of the questions.
Eight Questions about Alcohol and Drunk Driving
(Q1) If your friend weighs 120 pounds, how much can they drink in two hours before they are at, or over the legal limit of 0.08%?
(Q2) How much alcohol is in one standardized drink?
(Q3) How much alcohol does the liver metabolize in one hour?
(Q4) If a 200 pound male has an alcohol level of 0.08%, how much beer has he consumed?
(Q5) If you drink seven alcoholic beverages in 4 hours, how long will it take for your liver to remove all the alcohol in your body?
(Q6) If your blood alcohol level is 0.12%, how will you feel and act?
(Q7) How do you feel about Random Check Points to catch drunk drivers? How would you feel if police made random checks on people leaving establishments that serve alcohol?
(Q8) When you decide to drive after drinking alcohol, do you use your feelings about your level of intoxication, or are you objective?
(A1) There are two answers to this question. Males can drink 4, and females can drink 3. Because of the way people are built, male and females blood alcohol levels will be different if they drink the same number of alcoholic beverages within a fixed time. Everyone’s body type is different and is effected by alcohol differently. You should plan for this so you won’t drive intoxicated.
(A2) There are 0.60 ounces of alcohol in one standardized drink. One standardized drink is a 12 oz. can of beer, a 5 oz. glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits.
(A3) The liver metabolizes one standardized alcoholic drink in one hour, no more, no less. Your liver can only remove a fix amount of alcohol. So alcohol will build up in your system, if you drink more than one beverage in one hour.
(A4) He has consumed 4 beers. There is a direct correlation with blood alcohol level and the number of alcoholic beverages someone drinks. For a 200 pound male, his blood alcohol level will rise 0.02% with every beverage that he drinks.
(A5) It will take seven hours for his liver to remove all the alcohol.
(A6) If your blood alcohol level is 0.12%, then you’ll have slurred speech, loss of coordination, slow reaction time, possible liver damage, and impaired judgment. For a 200 pound male, this means that he has at least 6 alcoholic beverages in his body. That’s like drinking 7 beers in one hour! The amount you decide to drink is a personal choice but if you decide to binge drink, then you should value other people and don’t drive.
(A7) The true number of people driving over 0.08% is higher than is currently reported. To get a truer account, random check points are good to catch drunk drivers. But random checks on people leaving establishments that sell alcohol are better.
(A8) You shouldn’t use your feelings when deciding to drive after drinking. There is a way to calculate your blood alcohol level in advance. You should do it before you start to drink because then you’ll be able to plan whether you’ll be ok to drive home, or if you’ll need to arrange transportation.
Little did Mildred know as she was helping me I was also using her for my science fair project. I explained everything I knew about alcohol and drunk drinking to Mildred during the time we worked together. I then tested her as she was about to leave for the night with Joe.
I asked her, “If a female weighting 140 pounds drinks 6 mix drinks in three hours, what will be her blood alcohol level?”
Mildred replied, “I subtract 3 drinks because I stopped drinking after three hours. My liver removed that alcohol. So I still have three drinks in my system. I then look at chart to see what my blood alcohol level will be after one drink. I’ll memorize that value 0.03% from now on. I then calculate, multiplying 0.03% by 3 drinks. So my blood alcohol level is 0.09%.”
I then ask her, “when is the best time to calculate your blood level and why?”
“BEFORE you even start to drink, not AFTER! Because after you start drinking your judgment is impaired. You never want to calculate your blood alcohol level while you’re drinking. If you make plans in advance to drink as much as you want, for as long as you want, then you can make arrangements not to drive!”
Mildred told me she felt more comfortable knowing about the dangers of alcohol and drunk driving. Before she met Joe, she didn’t like being pressure to drink as much as the other guys when going out to the Husky. She promised me she would have the conversation with Joe before going out to drink alcohol, either at a restaurant or at the next tailgate party for the Rebels.
I can’t say for certain that Mildred will never drive drunk. If she does make a conscious decision to drive drunk, she makes that decision fully aware of the risks and consequences. For the short time I have known Mildred, I have faith in her that she’ll make the right decision.
Too many people are subjectively judging themselves on whether they are safe to drive home after drinking alcohol. Drunk driving can be prevented if people start choosing to objectively plan in advance. Alcohol education must become standardized and mandatory for all people! The best time to educate people about drunk driving and alcohol is when they are about to get their driver’s license or have it renewed so they will take alcohol, drunk driving, and the lives of people around them, more seriously.
After the Science Fair, I walked up to the top of Mount Moffett. Kaly always like going up to the glacier during the summer. She told me once that her grandmother said, “glaciers were special.” They are alive and not alive. We are like glaciers! You could change the past, like you could change the future! I picked up fresh snow that fell from the sky and squeezed it hard with my hand. All you have to have is faith.
Many years later and oceans away, I still remember Kaly. There are some nights I’m not so certain that I will ever meet her again, but, as I think of Kaly, with the sun finally breaking free of the clouds and the ice melting around her, I fall to sleep believing that I will, somewhere far, long after the world ends.