09/06/2012 03:03 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2012

Drunks and Other Tales From Mexico City

By Claudia Ocaranza Abascal

The nightclub closed at 2 a.m. My friends and I decided to keep partying somewhere else. We left in various cars, but the friend who was driving my car was very drunk. I offered to take over because I was sober, and up ahead I saw one of hundreds of alcohol checkpoints that are placed strategically throughout Mexico City.

My friend stubbornly refused my offer. I did not insist, and was dumb for allowing it. The moment of truth came. We were stopped. My friend measured 0.8mg in the breathalyzer, which in drunken meter math means up to six drinks, or a bottle of rum, in two hours.

Our next stop was "El Torito," the holding cell where drunk drivers are taken by transit police in Mexico City. Not being the driver, I was released from the checkpoint as the policemen repeated horrid tales of Friday nights spent in the cells at El Torito, and of potential cellmates, from sexual deviants to thugs. Through the fog of alcohol, my friend believed them.

Close to 500 drunk drivers are hauled to El Torito every weekend, according to Mexico City's Health Department and its program "Drive without Alcohol," which was introduced in 2003. The penalties specify a detention of 20 to 36 hours, which is mild if compared to what happens to a driver caught drunk in the United States.

But thanks to a corrupted system that includes colluded police officers and citizens willing to subvert the system, few spend that time in confinement.

The night of my friend's arrest, a short man dressed casually sidled up to me and two friends who witnessed our friend's detention. He handed us his business card which read, abogado (lawyer), and said he could have our friend released for $200. I didn't think we should do anything. It was a good detriment for my friend, especially in Mexico, where drunk driving is the No. 1 cause of death in young people.

But my other friends felt bad for my friend. The next morning I was surprised by a call from my friend who was already home by 11 a.m. and having breakfast. He barely stayed in the holding cell for eight hours.

The incident got me thinking: If we keep circumventing the law, we will continue to lament the statistics.

According to the World Health Organization, Mexico has the seventh place in the world for deaths in road accidents.

The Youth Mexican Institute estimates that two out of every 10 young people ages 15 to 29 die every year in accidents caused by alcohol.

Mexico also has the third place in road accidents deaths in Latin America.

Around 24,000 Mexicans die each year on the road, and half of the road accidents are related to alcohol. If we keep ignoring the law, there is no point in programs as the "Road Security Strategy in Mexico."

In other countries, alcohol checkpoints helped decrease accidents by 20 percent, says the Pan American Health Organization.

Driving safely also means money. Road accidents and deaths represent 1 percent of the GDP in Mexico.

Drunk driving measurements in Mexico are laxer than places like California where drivers under 21 years old cannot have more than .01 blood alcohol concentration. In Mexico, both young and adult drivers are measured the same -- 0.4mg per liter of alcohol in exhaled air. This means two or three drinks each hour.

My friend didn't learn his lesson that night. Today he goes to night clubs, drinks and drives. Just in case, he checks Twitter to know where the alcohol checkpoints are located, so he can drive around them. Obviously I don't catch rides with him.