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The buzz hit after the first drink.
It grew after the second and the third.
But I didn't feel all that impaired.
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My friends drinking with me said the same thing.
Then, we stood before police officers at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy who are learning how to conduct the standardized field sobriety test. We were their voluntary lab subjects.
"I didn't feel drunk, but once I did the testing I was, 'Oh, I am,'" said Candace Perry, a 33-year-old Columbia resident who volunteered to drink for the class.
Twenty-four officers from across the state are taking the course, just in time for the holiday party season.
While drunk driving is a year-round problem in South Carolina, officers at the academy said the Christmas and New Year's holidays give people more opportunities to drink alcohol.
"There are a lot of parties going on and people get together to celebrate," said Hubert Harrell, the academy's director. "They think, 'I'm OK' and they go get in their cars and they end up hurting somebody. There are a lot of people who won't be here after the holidays because of DUI."
In 2007, 549 people were killed and 3,894 people were injured in alcohol-related traffic collisions, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety's latest available statistics.
In South Carolina, it is illegal to get behind the wheel with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent.
For most people, that level of intoxication may make them talk more or be bolder on the dance floor. But it doesn't make them falling-down drunk.
That is what the academy wants police around the state to understand, said Dale Smith, traffic safety program manager.
"We're trying to get our officers to see what a .07 or .08 or .09 is," Smith said. "We want them to see what a low-level DUI is. If you can't stand up, it's a given that you're impaired."
So the academy rounded up eight volunteers who on Wednesday morning agreed to drink Taaka vodka (trust me, it's the cheap stuff) until they went just beyond the legal limit.
For me, it took 180 milliliters of booze. That's about four shots of hard liquor. A shot of hard liquor has the same alcohol content as one beer or one glass of wine.
Perry drank about the same amount.
Another volunteer drinker, Jon Marr, 27, needed more liquor to hit .08.
Once we hit the legal limit, we headed to a gym, where officers took turns performing the field sobriety test on us.
The test includes standing on one leg for 30 seconds and walking heel-to-toe along a straight line while counting out nine paces.
These felt somewhat easy to master: You try to maintain balance and control and simply follow instructions.
But there were subtle clues the officers picked up.
For example, I tended to slightly sway while standing heel-to-toe listening to officers' instructions, even though I never actually stumbled while walking.
The third piece of the test is the one that got me - and my fellow drinkers - every time.
It's called the horizontal gaze nystagmus. You and I recognize it as the "pen test."
The officer asks the suspected drunk driver to focus on the tip of a pen or his finger and follow its movement with eyes only. Do not move your head.
The test works because people have six muscles around their eyes that they can't control individually.
"They're arguing amongst themselves and can't get their act together," said Wayne Harris, a sobriety test instructor. "It's involuntary."
Because of that so-called argument, a drunk person's eyes jerk when following the pen. There's no way to hide it.
After each of us was tested eight times, officers explained whether they would have hauled Perry, Marr or me off to jail.
Each of us would have been arrested seven times and only let off the hook once.
Even when officers found few clues of drunkenness in the leg stand or walking, they noticed our eyes jerking.
Perry and Marr said they learned a lesson during the experiment.
Both are social drinkers who have a couple of drinks over dinner with friends. Now, both said they would be more quick to find a designated driver.
"I felt more sober than the tests showed," Marr said. "I wouldn't have necessarily jumped in a car to drive, but I wouldn't have felt uncomfortable doing it."
Another volunteer drinker will apply his experience at his job. Shawn Mosteller, a bartender at Sharky's and Red Hot in Five Points, said he realized the belligerent drunks are not the only ones too tipsy to drive.
"We're supposed to cut people off," he said. "It's already too late if they're acting foolish."