Life In The USA, Part 5

More strange things.

Cup holders

A rather peculiar concept to non-Americans. Cup holders are essential parts of cars. Cup holders do what the name suggests. They hold your cup. Apparently, you need to drink coffee in your car. Or something else that comes in a cup.

An American car (or any car that wants to be sold in America) needs cup holders. Part of the time-is-money culture, I guess. No time to drink my coffee before I start to drive, bro. One luxury version of a popular minivan has no fewer than 17 (!) cup holders.

You might wonder if this encourages drinking alcohol while driving. No idea, but it's a nice segue into the next topic.

Drinking and Driving

Meaning being under the influence of alcohol when driving a car. As in most any country, this is illegal in the USA.

Of course, the most egregious form of drinking and driving is drinking while you are driving. Believe it or not, this actually happens. So, they made it illegal to have an open alcohol container in your car. Seems sensible enough. So, I know this woman who was driving around with a box of empty wine bottles on the backseat of her car. She made her own wine, you see, and she needed empty wine bottles to put the wine in. Guess what? She got stopped by a police officer (for speeding) and she got a ticket for "having an opened alcohol container" in her car. Talk about the letter versus the spirit of the law.

The allowed amount of alcohol that you can have in your system (the "legal limit") is 0.08% in the United States. Personally, I find this rather high, also because a lot of people don't know how to drive when sober, let alone under the influence of alcohol.

Anyway, in many countries (at least in the Netherlands), the police check for drivers that have been drinking by simply blocking a road and pulling everyone over. Every driver will be asked if he or she had anything to drink. Depending on the answer and whether the driver appears to be under the influence, he or she will be sent on their merry way or asked to take a breathalyzer test. If the breathalyzer test results in a high enough reading, the driver will be taken to the police station for a more accurate breathalyzer test. All sorts of unplesant consequences may result from this.

In the USA, simply blocking a road is considered a violation of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution. The police must have probable cause to pull you over for an alcohol check. This means that you can be completely drunk while driving, as long as you don't drive erratically or commit some traffic violation. I have actually heard of people saying "they can't stop me anyway unless I'm driving erratically" while gulping down their fifth glass of wine.

I am all for the 4th Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

However, I fail to see how this applies to people driving on a public road, in a box of steel that can (and does) kill other people, and while potentially being impaired by alcohol. Maybe a slightly different interpretation of the 4th Amendment could save quite a few lives. But I guess the Supreme Court knows better. Huh.

Please send comments to