Drinking and Driving (DUI)
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Getting behind the wheel of a vehicle – car, truck, motorcycle or any other motorized vehicle – after consuming alcohol is a serious crime. Drinking and driving is referred to as driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI), and involves operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of at least 0.08 percent. However, even a small amount of alcohol can lead to harmful situations. Some drivers may not even show warning signs of being under the influence, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous. It’s important to remember that any form of drinking and driving is illegal and can come with strict punishment.
The largest group at risk for drinking and driving are those who binge drink or are struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This means they consume a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, putting them at risk for harmful side effects. It takes roughly 30 minutes to two hours for alcohol to be absorbed into your bloodstream. During this time, your breathing may slow down and your cognitive skills may be delayed. Because of this, it is always dangerous to drink and drive.
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Dangers of Drinking and Driving
Any amount of alcohol in your bloodstream can impact your driving ability. The effects of alcohol abuse vary greatly, putting you at risk for causing an accident or highway injury. Safe driving requires the ability to concentrate, make good judgements and quickly react to situations. However, alcohol affects these skills, putting yourself and others in danger.
Here are several ways alcohol impairs your driving skills:
Slow reaction time
When alcohol is in your system, it affects how quickly you’re able to respond to different situations. Drinking slows your response time, which can increase the likelihood of an accident. Therefore, if the car in front of you brakes suddenly or a pedestrian crosses the street, it will take longer for your brain to process the situation and prevent an accident.
Lack of coordination
Heavy drinking affects your motor skills such as eye, hand and foot coordination. Without crucial coordination skills, you may be unable to avoid an impending harmful situation. Some telltale signs of reduced coordination include trouble walking, swaying and inability to stand straight. Too much alcohol can even make it difficult to get in your car and find its ignition.
Alcohol, no matter how much or how little, can influence your concentration. With driving, there are many things that require your undivided concentration such as staying in your lane, your speed, other cars on the road and traffic signals. Your attention span is dramatically reduced with drinking, which significantly increases the chance of an accident.
Excessive alcohol consumption can negatively impact your vision. After drinking, you may notice that your vision is blurred or that you’re unable to control your eye movement. Impaired vision can affect how you judge the distance between your car and other vehicles on the road. Additionally, fewer objects may be visible within your peripheral vision, or what you can see to either side of you when looking straight ahead.
Your brain controls how you judge certain circumstances. When operating a motorized vehicle, your judgement skills play an important role in how you make decisions. For instance, you need to be able to foresee potential problems and make clear decisions if another vehicle cuts you off. Your judgement helps you stay alert and aware of surrounding conditions while driving.
In the United States, roughly 28 people die every day in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver.
In 2014, nearly 10,000 Americans were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes. Alcohol-related accidents accounted for nearly one-third of all traffic-related deaths.
More than 1.1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics in 2014.
How Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Levels Affect Driving
A blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08 percent is considered legally impaired. However, alcohol can start to affect many of your senses after only one drink. No matter the circumstances, you should never drink and drive. It’s not worth the risk of putting yourself and others in danger.
Here’s an example of how your BAC level affects your driving:
BAC of 0.02
Lack of judgment, increased relaxation, slightly increased body temperature, mood swings, decreased visual functionality, inability to multi-task
BAC of 0.05
Increased lack of judgment, exaggerated behavior, lack of coordination, reduced ability to detect moving objects, lack of alertness, lack of inhibitions, decreased small-muscle control, reduced response rate
BAC of 0.08
Reduced muscle coordination, lack of judgment, lack of reasoning, lack of self-control, loss of short-term memory, reduced ability to concentrate, lack of speed control, reduced ability to process information
BAC of 0.10
Poor coordination, slowed reaction times, reduced ability to control the vehicle, reduced ability to keep vehicle within a lane and brake at appropriate times, slurred speech
BAC of 0.15
Extreme loss of balance, nearly zero muscle control, vomiting, impaired visual and auditory information processing, significantly reduced attention to driving tasks
Additionally, fatal crashes involving a 0.08 percent BAC level or higher are charged as alcohol-impaired driving fatalities. Although the the alcohol-impaired driving fatality rate decreased 27 percent between 2005 and 2014, motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol cost the United States roughly $44 billion each year.
The economic costs of these crashes include:
- Lost productivity
- Workplace losses
- Legal expenses
- Medical costs
- Emergency medical services
- Insurance administration
- Property damage
Who is Most at Risk?
Alcohol consumption can put anyone at risk of causing an accident or other serious injury. However, some populations are more likely to get behind the wheel of a car after drinking.
Drivers who are between the ages of 16 and 20 years old are 10 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash, than drivers over the age of 21. While the number of underage drinking and driving cases has significantly decreased, many communities are pushing out new initiatives to keep adolescents safe. In 2011 alone, close to one million high school teens admitted to drinking and driving.
The second highest alcohol-related crash risk includes individuals between the ages of 21 to 24. In 2012, 21 to 24 year olds had the highest percentage of drivers in fatal crashes with a BAC level of 0.08 percent or higher – 32 percent. Many of these cases involved binge drinking, a form of consuming too much alcohol in a short period of time. This often affects college students and young professionals who attend parties and other social events that have easy access to alcohol.
Drinking and Driving Laws
Federal regulation constitutes a DWI as driving with a BAC level of 0.08 percent or higher. A motor vehicle may include car, truck, bicycle, golf cart, snowmobile and jet skis. Each state has its own laws surrounding DWI convictions such as the fines involved, jail time and possible revoked or suspended license. Depending on the legal charges, some states may also require community service time or alcoholism treatment.
Many states have enacted various laws in an effort to reduce the dangers of drinking and driving. For instance, zero tolerance laws are aimed at adolescents who get behind the wheel of a car after consuming alcohol. Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal in the United States and comes with strict punishment. If you are charged with underage drinking and operating a motor vehicle, you could face severe legal penalties.
A DWI or DUI conviction can impact your life in a number of ways. Consequences of drinking and driving can hurt your family and relationships, cost you employment opportunities, cause financial difficulties, high insurance rates and possible time in jail.
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- Author — Last Edited: August 7, 2018
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (2015). Driving While Impaired – Alcohol and Drugs. November 2016. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/driving-while-impaired-alcohol-and-drugs
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Impaired Driving. Get the Facts. November 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2015). Alcohol-Impaired Driving. November 2016. https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812231
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Teen Drinking and Driving. November 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/teendrinkinganddriving/index.html
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2012). Traffic Safety Facts, 2012 Data: Alcohol-Impaired Driving. November 2016. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwj456Xv9KjQAhWI7CYKHXuiCz8QFggkMAE&url=https%3A%2F%2Fcrashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov%2FApi%2FPublic%2FPublication%2F811870&usg=AFQjCNHmYblSqn6X-TK8Yw3xyM-cHcqjZA&sig2=Nel96xcKFeHfxN0lK2nVRQ&bvm=bv.138493631,d.eWE