by Bob Bestor
Guilt is a powerful force. So is anxiety. Usually both feelings are pointless and unwarranted. But when you are in a foreign country (New Zealand in this case), and out of sorts from both jet lag and driving on the wrong side of the road, you might be more susceptible to them. Particularly when you are approaching Uniformed Law Enforcement Officers and their sobriety checkpoint roadblock. As pointless as guilt and anxiety may be, they are there. They must be vestiges of my barely-catholic upbringing.
So even though I was stone-cold sober, it was sweaty palms time. I knew I had not been drinking, but my sweaty palms didn’t seem to care. But when it got to be my turn, it was no problem and even quite civil. The police officer simply asked me to count to five into his hand-held breathalyzer. The results were displayed instantly (“no alcohol”) and in my case we were on our way in about thirty seconds with a “Have a nice day.” Even taking photos of the event was no problem. I’d guess it wouldn’t have been quite so civil had I failed.
Fortunately we were already familiar with New Zealand’s sobriety checkpoints. On our first day, while on foot, we had seen a checkpoint at 4pm on a weekday afternoon just outside of downtown Christchurch. We thought it was an odd time and place. But then again, why not? It certainly is a good way to advertise to the general public that the cops are on the lookout. It was also the only time we came upon a checkpoint when we were not 100% sober!
New Zealand seems to take what they call “drink driving” seriously. In addition to sobriety checkpoints, “Know Your Limit” posters are ubiquitous in bars and restaurants. The poster features two young and hip New Zealanders, a man and a woman, and goes into quite a bit of detail on the effects of various alcoholic drinks and offers a rule of thumb of three drinks over two hours for men and two drinks over two hours for women.
We went through three checkpoints and saw a couple others during our two-week visit to the south island of New Zealand. It was enough to make us switch drivers after our friendly visit to the St. Clair Bowling Club in Dunedin. I was more like “three over one and a half” and although I was our primary driver, we figured it was better to get in trouble with the rental car company than with New Zealand’s finest – and to not deal with the catholic guilt either.