It was midnight and time to head home from a night of social interaction at my favorite pub. This particular night I decided not to call my usual taxi for the short ride home. Looking back, this decision was the most regrettable one I have made in 25 years of living in Germany. The most frightening of sights appeared in my rear view mirror on this short ride home: blue, flashing lights. A few minutes later, I was escorted inside the local polizei station where I was processed for drunken driving. I was immediately relieved of my German driver license (as well as my USA license) and taken home, with the arresting officer reminding me to “get a lawyer-you’ll need it”.

Since there was no personal or property damage and this was my first traffic violation, I assumed I would have my license back in weeks or at the most a few short months. Pay the fine and wait it out I thought.

I thought wrong, very wrong. What transpired after this was a course of events and financial burdens unlike anything I would wish on my worst of enemies.

It took 3 months to get the official paper work from the court officially charging me with “willful negligence” in driving under the influence. If convicted, this would stay on my record forever. This was my first battle to overcome. With my lawyer at my side, we appeared in court to challenge this and were successful. The charge was lowered to “simple negligence” while under the influence. I was assessed a several thousand Euro fine and a mandatory suspension of my driving privileges for 6 months. But, there was one mandated requirement that came as a shock to me. Because my BAL (blood alcohol level) was over 1,6% pro mille, I would have to successfully complete and pass what is referred to as the “idiot test” or MPU (Medizinisch – Psychologische Untersuchung).

The idiot test is named after one of three elements of this process. This particular element is a timed physical hand-eye coordination test and involves hand, eye, feet and hearing movement. This was the simplest of the 3 stages of the test. It is also one I personally advocate for all senior citizens in possession of a driver’s license. A second element of the test was the doctor’s physical examination that also involved a blood test. The blood is examined for a history of drinking habits. In order to pass this requirement, you must not have consumed alcohol for weeks prior and have not had a long and extensive drinking habit. This test was particularly complex for me because of my high levels of an enzyme called Gamma GT. In order to be exempt from this portion of the test, I underwent no fewer than 30 visits to my house doctor to monitor my Gamma levels. I did this during a period of 9 months and abstained from drinking altogether. With my Gamma levels still above what would be required to pass the test, I insisted on a liver biopsy. The biopsy confirmed that I was indeed not drinking and that my liver values were high due to other factors that were not life threatening. Although the biopsy was painful, the hardest part of the test was still ahead. I had to pass this final portion of the overall test or I would be rejected and have to wait at least 4 months to re-test.

The third and final part of the test to recover my driver’s license was a long and extensive dialog with a Psychologist. You are asked a series of questions that require all correct answers (that are subjective at best.) The psychologist tries to determine if you can carry on in life with “some level” of controlled drinking or total abstinence. The questioning is extensive and intense. I had depended on the merits of a 4 month psychological “Freiungs” course to help me prepare for this psychological test. I felt confident after the completion of my test and had to wait 6 weeks to receive a letter telling me that I had failed.

Statistically, less than 70% pass this test on their first attempt. Failing the first attempt, I had to wait more than 4 months (suggested by the MPU institution) to retake the test. Only after spending Euro 1,500 with private, professional psychological counseling was I confident I could pass the test the second time I took it. The stakes, professionally and personally, were already too high. Three weeks after completing the second test, I was notified that I had passed.

What was the cost of regaining my license? Time, money and emotional stress for me as well as my family. I spent well over Euro 15,000 during this process. I lost productivity at work and became house-bound far too often. I forced this situation on my family. If I am ever faced with something as mundane and expected as a normal “polizei kontrol” and I have more than 0.03%BAL in my system, I will once again be without a license for no less than 2 years and have to repeat the entire process.

The responsibility of keeping your driver’s license is not a right. As proverbial as it sounds, it is indeed a privilege. That is now quite clear to me and will never be taken for granted again.