Drunken Driving

Death and injury associated with drinking and driving is a national tragedy. It is the number one contributor to the highway death toll, claiming thousands of victims every year.

Alcohol affects four things that anyone needs to drive a vehicle:

• Judgment
• Muscular Coordination
• Vision
• Attentiveness

Police records show that almost half of all motor vehicle-related deaths involve alcohol. In most cases, these deaths are the result of someone who was drinking and driving. In recent years, more than 16,000 annual motor vehicle-related deaths have been associated with the use of alcohol, with more than 300,000 people injured.

Many adults — by some estimates, nearly half the adult population — choose never to drink alcohol, so they never drive after drinking.

For persons under 21, it is against the law in every U.S. state to drink alcohol. There are good medical, psychological, and developmental reasons for these laws.

The obvious way to eliminate the leading highway safety problem is for people never to drink alcohol and then drive. But what if people do? How much is “too much” if someone plans to drive? It is a lot less than many might think.

Although it depends on each person and situation, here is some general information on the problem.

The Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of someone who is drinking depends upon four things:

• The amount of alcohol consumed
• The drinker’s body weight
• The amount of food that is consumed before and during drinking
• The length of time it has taken the drinker to consume the alcohol

According to the American Medical Association, a 180 lb (82 kg) person who drinks three 12 ounce (355 ml) bottles of beer in an hour will end up with a BAC of about 0.06 percent. The person would reach the same BAC by drinking three 4 ounce (120 ml) glasses of wine or three mixed drinks if each had 1-1/2 ounces (45 ml) of liquors like whiskey, gin, or vodka.

It is the amount of alcohol that counts. For example,

It is the amount of alcohol that counts. For example, if the same person drank three double martinis (3 ounces or 90 ml of liquor each) within an hour, the person’s BAC would be close to 0.12 percent.

A person who consumes food just before or during drinking will have a somewhat lower BAC level.

There is a gender difference, too. Women generally have a lower relative percentage of body water than men. Since alcohol is carried in body water, this means that a woman generally will reach a higher BAC level than a man of her same body weight will when each has the same number of drinks.

The law in most U.S. states, and throughout Canada, sets the legal limit at 0.08 percent.

In some other countries, the limit is even lower.

For example, it is 0.05 percent in both France and Germany. The BAC limit for all commercial drivers in the United States is 0.04 percent.

The BAC will be over 0.10 percent after three to six drinks (in one hour). Of course, as we have seen, it depends on how much alcohol is in the drinks, and how quickly the person drinks them.

But the ability to drive is affected well below a BAC of 0.10 percent. Research shows that the driving skills of many people are impaired at a BAC approaching 0.05 percent, and that the effects are worse at night. All drivers are impaired at BAC levels above 0.05 percent. Statistics show that the chance of being in a collision increases sharply for drivers who have a BAC of 0.05 percent or above.

A driver with a BAC level of 0.06 percent has doubled his or her chance of having a collision. At a BAC level of 0.10 percent, the chance of this driver having a collision is 12 times greater; at a level of 0.15 percent, the chance is 25 times greater! The body takes about an hour to rid itself of the alcohol in one drink. No amount of coffee or number of cold showers will speed that up.

“I will be careful” is not the right answer. What if there is an emergency, a need to take sudden action, as when a child darts into the street? A person with even a moderate BAC might not be able to react quickly enough to avoid the collision.

There is something else about drinking and driving that many people do not know. Medical research shows that alcohol in a person’s system can make crash injuries worse, especially injuries to the brain, spinal cord, or heart. This means that when anyone who has been drinking — driver or passenger — is in a crash, that person’s chance of being killed or permanently disabled is higher than if the person had not been drinking.

CAUTION:
Drinking and then driving is very dangerous. Your reflexes, perceptions, attentiveness, and judgment can be affected by even a small amount of alcohol. You can have a serious—or even fatal—collision if you drive after drinking. Please do not drink and drive or ride with a driver who has been drinking. Ride home in a cab; or if you are with a group, designate a driver who will not drink.

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