Gustavson Column: The night I made a truly bad choice

A confession: I recently drove a car when I shouldn’t have.

It came at the end of a long and beautiful day of showing off the North Fork to friends visiting from out of town. It began with a midday vineyard tour and ended some eight hours later at a dinner party at our home in Orient. In the process we consumed more glasses of wine than I care to count.

Under normal circumstances, I would not have gone anywhere near a steering wheel after a day like that. But our out-of-town guests insisted on getting back to their boat in Stirling Harbor, Greenport, and they doggedly declined our invitation to spend the night in our spare bedroom. So, here are the keys to our car, I said, drive it yourself. Oh, no, they responded, we’ve had too much wine to drink.

Now I’m a big guy — Refrigerator Perry size, as faithful readers of this column may recall — so presumably I can handle more alcohol than most others without ill effects, and I honestly did not “feel” intoxicated at the time. Still, I should have called a taxi for our friends, but instead I drove them to Greenport and returned safely to Orient.

Without incident. At no time during the drive did I consider myself impaired, but if I had been stopped by the police I do not know if I would have passed a Breathalyzer test.

The recollection of this dubious round-trip to Greenport came to mind recently when a friend challenged me about this newspaper’s policy of publishing the names of all persons arrested for driving while intoxicated. (Even a Suffolk Times police reporter once had to include his own name in the weekly police report after he was arrested for DWI. At another time, an editor ran the account of his own son’s DWI arrest.)

Even though there’s a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the paper routinely publishes a disclaimer to that effect, my friend thinks there’s an unfair stigma attached to the publication of the original arrest. What if the cops were mistaken, he asks, or the court reduces the charges or issues a verdict of not guilty?

I, as you might expect, beg to differ. If I had been stopped and arrested during that recent ill-advised drive, my name would have appeared in this paper just like everyone else’s. And the inevitability of that publication, I believe, has a deterrent effect.

If for no other reason than the certainty that your name will be published if you are arrested for DWI, I believe the majority of drivers would surrender their car keys to someone else. That’s what I should have done after that recent dinner party, and I solemnly vow that’s what I will do if I ever find myself in that position again.

So, what do you think, dear reader (other than the fact that I’m an idiot for drinking too much wine, getting behind the wheel, then publicly admitting it)?

Should the newspaper publish the names of all those arrested for DWI? Does the inevitability of that publication have a deterrent effect that keeps drunk drivers off the roads? Or does publication prematurely and unfairly stigmatize those who have been arrested?

To answer any or all of those questions, please send an e-mail to [email protected], or, please add a new comment below.