When I heard this weekend that Shayne Lamas, the gal who snagged Matt Grant in season 12 of “The Bachelor,” was the latest reality star to get busted for behind-the-wheel booziness, I groaned but was hardly surprised. Her arrest was as predictable as Stephanie Pratt’s a mere few weeks before. Yet reading both girls’ shocked, defensive responses to their ordeals—But I only had two drinks! I was practically sober!—I found myself cringing with a pang of empathy. See, a few years ago, just shy of my 21st birthday, I got pulled over for a broken taillight after having a not-yet-legal glass of wine at a dinner party. When the officer asked if I’d be drinking, I reacted the exact same way these two did. As a Dean’s List student at a top college who volunteered at the local children’s hospital, I thought I could do no wrong. I rattled off these accomplishments to the cop, sure that he’d let me off the hook. “Basically,” I said, no doubt looking and sounding like the naïve blonde sorority girl I was, “I am not the type of person who drinks and drives.” Except that, according to the Breathalyzer, I was.After blowing a .02, the officer promptly placed me under arrest for violating Delaware’s Zero Tolerance Law. As someone who’d never so much as been grounded before, I was at a loss for words. Something else that was lost in the hoopla of my night in jail? The fact that I had done something not just illegal but truly dangerous. While the details of my unlikely arrest circulated around my hometown, I clung to the claim that I had been virtually sober. From my years of high school and college parties, I was convinced that the “designated driver” was the person who drank the least—not one who abstained completely. I still thought I had done nothing wrong.
It was only recently, at age 26, that I stopped making excuses and started focusing on the facts. At the risk of sounding like a M.A.D.D. presentation, driving performance degrades after just one drink. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, by the time someone has three drinks in an hour—the amount that Stephanie Pratt must have had in order to blow a .08—they are 11 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than someone who has had nothing to drink. Add that to the fact that 21-to-24-year-olds have the highest involvement in alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, and it’s clear that the celebutante DUI is more than just a young Hollywood rite of passage; it’s indicative of a larger national epidemic.
In the end, my arrest—and its accompanying barrage of paperwork and mandatory court appearance—was a royal pain in the arse. And a sobering dose of reality, reminding me that laws are put in place to save lives. I’m now diligent about not drinking and driving. But I have to wonder how much longer the DUI trend will be fashionable for celebrities—and more importantly, at what cost to the rest of us?