The Dangers of Drinking and Driving

For much of human history since the invention of the automobile, the effects of driving while inebriated have been problematic. How big is the problem of alcohol-related accidents? Each day, roughly 30 people die on American roads as a result of someone driving while under the influence of alcohol. The number of lives claimed in drunk driving accidents every year in the US is approximately the same as the number of Americans who were killed in the Vietnam war.

The Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

In high doses alcohol makes it difficult to think quickly and reduces an individual’s ability to concentrate. Both of these things together make it very difficult for a driver to react to sudden and fast-moving events on the road. If a car in front of them brakes, the intoxicated driver may be aware of the need stop but simply be unable to use the motor skills necessary to do so. Furthermore, the effects of alcohol can be present as long as 12 hours after an individual has consumed it. All of this makes it very dangerous for intoxicated people to be behind the wheel of a vehicle. The upper limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08; after this point, an individual is considered drunk in the eyes of the law. This is the point at which all of the abilities that go into the safe operation of an automobile start becoming impaired. Most drunk driving accidents involve drivers with a BAC of more than .10 percent.

It is important to note how different concentrations of alcohol in the blood affect drivers.

• .02 BAC
The effects of alcohol at this concentration are relaxation and a reduction in the driver’s ability to see properly as well as to judge accurately. The ability to multitask is similarly inhibited.

• .05 BAC
Significant impairment of reflexes and eye movements. The ability to think clearly is reduced as is the individual’s coordination. They will find it difficult to steer as well as to respond quickly to any changes in conditions.

• .08 BAC
Loss of judgment, and the ability to concentrate along with significantly diminished short-term memory. Balance, hearing and the ability to exercise impulse control are also all considerably reduced.

Alcohol is Dangerous even in Trace Amounts

Research by sociologists at the University of California have found that even a .01 percent BAC is sufficient to increase the likelihood of a fatal accident. The findings included the fact that the severity of a crash was multiplied even when the driver’s BAC was far below the legal limit. The research showed that drivers with even a small amount of alcohol in their systems were:

• More likely to speed
• Less likely to properly use their seatbelt
• More likely to collide with another vehicle.

All of these things increase a driver’s likelihood of being involved in an accident as well as the likelihood that serious injuries will arise from that accident.

Facts About Drunk Driving in the US

According to the Centers for Disease Control:

• 10,228 people died in crashes caused by drunk drivers in 2010.
• 17 percent of the accidents in which children younger than 14 died were caused by alcohol- intoxicated drivers.
• 1,400,000 drivers were arrested on the nation’s roads in 2010 for driving while intoxicated by alcohol or narcotics.

When it comes to legal blood alcohol concentrations around the world, the US limit of .08 is relatively liberal. Many other countries set the ceiling much lower with some having placed it as low as .02. The fact is that alcohol in the blood poses a risk to everyone on the road, no matter how little the driver has had to drink. Even half of a beer could cause problems for some drivers.

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