[VIEWPOINT]Good Science Usually Makes Good LawsMore than 1,200 people die annually in car accidents caused by drunken driving. In spite of a large-scale campaign to prevent these deaths and a heavy crackdown on drunken driving, it is not easy to overcome the problem of driving after drinking and thus this is a serious societal problem.
Even before farming was started, our ancestors drank an alcohol made from a fermented mixture of water and honey, and it seems as if alcohol has always been with us. Alcohol brought a new world for people living in a primitive society and was used to help ease a fear of nature and to strengthen consolidation of groups through religious ceremonies.
The active ingredient that makes people drunk is ethanol, a type of alcohol that is created from the fermentation of carbohydrates, such as starch. Ethanol is absorbed through mucous membranes, remains in blood and affects the nervous system and relaxes muscles. Drinking alcohol in a small quantity might help to improve health, but drinking too much can be problematic. Most of all, drinking alcohol lowers the ability to make judgments and decreases muscle control functions. That's why traffic laws prohibit driving under a state of drunkenness.
However, it is difficult to clearly figure out the state of drunkenness. Judging someone's mouth odor is unsanitary, and nobody would yield to the judgment from such old and subjective way of finding whether one is drunk or not.
Therefore, the traffic law provides a scientifically clear gauge of more than 0.05 percent level of concentrated alcohol in blood.
Of course, people become drunk at different rates even with the same amount of alcohol, and the level of concentration of alcohol in blood does not mean the level of drunkenness. Nevertheless, the level of concentration is very appropriate as a rational criteria, which can be applied with fairness and honesty.
This is a good example of the need for science to be applied to the rule by law.
To find out the level of concentration, it is necessary to directly collect blood and analyze the blood with a chemical method called chromatography. The method scientifically measures the difference in speed of flow of substances. It is time consuming and expensive method which require complicated procedures, but useful in protecting human rights.
The police use an inhaling device as a preliminary evaluation before deciding whether blood testing is necessary. Alcohol, once absorbed in the body, can be disintegrated and also be discharged through a capillary tube located in alveolus of the lung and through respiration.
So, alcohol in the air from deep breathing can be burned electrochemically, and during the oxidization, the concentration of alcohol in the air can be measured, which also helps predict the level of concentration in the blood.
The concentration of alcohol measured with the inhaling method is statistically connected to the legal limit of the concentration of alcohol in blood, but they are actually two different things. Making a judgment on whether a person tested drank or did not drink, through the inhaling device, is like sorting out the rich by the price of automobiles people drive. Simply, one can't conclude that wealthy people always drive the most expensive cars.
Moreover, as the Taegu branch of the National Police Agency said last year, the result can come out differently depending on people or depending on whether a person tested washed his mouth before submitting to the inhaling device test.
So, though it is inconvenient to take the blood test, the legal judgment of whether the person drank or not should come from a strict blood test.
Laws must be abided by according to the law, and laws that cannot be abided by should be modified. Making up laws based on scientific standards is not all. With a government that applies laws differently on its own, saying the laws are cumbersome or in a society that accepts such administrative irregularities without thinking, legalism remains nothing but a fancy dream.
Modern society is a scientific society in which one cannot protect one's own precious rights if he does not understand science.
The writer is a professor of chemistry at Sogang University.
by Lee Duck-hwan