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Drinking and Driving

Driving involves multiple tasks, the demands of which can change continually. To drive safely, one must maintain alertness, make decisions based on ever-changing information present in the environment, and execute maneuvers based on these decisions. Drinking alcohol impairs a wide range of the forgoing skills necessary for carrying out the tasks of driving. With alcohol, ones ability to maintain alertness, execute maneuvers, and make decisions in response to a changing environment is significantly impaired. The following examines the effects of alcohol on driving.

Crash Risk Influences

Blood alcohol concentration. The proportion of alcohol to blood in the body is expressed as the blood alcohol concentration (BAC). In the field of traffic safety, BAC is expressed as the percentage of alcohol in deciliters of blood - for example, 0.05 percent (i.e., 0.05 grams per deciliter). A 160-pound man will have a BAC of approximately 0.04 percent 1 hour after consuming two 12-ounce beers or two other standard drinks on an empty stomach.

The many skills involved in driving are not all impaired at the same BAC's. For example, a driver's ability to divide attention between two or more sources of visual information can be impaired by BAC's of 0.02 percent or lower. However, it is not until BAC's of 0.05 percent or more are reached that impairment occurs consistently in eye movements, glare resistance, visual perception, reaction time, certain types of steering tasks, information processing, and other aspects of psychomotor performance.

Research has documented that the risk of a motor vehicle crash increases as BAC increases and that the more demanding the driving task, the greater the impairment caused by low doses of alcohol. Compared with drivers who have not consumed alcohol, the risk of a single-vehicle fatal crash for drivers with BAC's between 0.02 and 0.04 percent is estimated to be 1.4 times higher; for those with BAC's between 0.05 and 0.09 percent, 11.1 times higher; for drivers with BAC's between 0.10 and 0.14 percent, 48 times higher; and for those with BAC's at or above 0.15 percent, the risk is estimated to be 380 times higher.

Youth. Youthful age has been cited as one of the most important variables related to crash risk. Young drivers are inexperienced not only in driving but in drinking and in combining the two activities. According to the CDC in 2004, 4,767 teenagers died from fatal car crash injuries. All State laws stipulate driver BAC limits. According to these laws, operating a vehicle while having a BAC over the given limit is illegal. The BAC limit for drivers age 21 and older is 0.08 percent in all 50 States.

The following is typical of the four distinct aspects of the prosecution's case: driving pattern, physical appearance, field sobriety test performance, and chemical test results. While the goal in any case is to negate all four elements, if we can negate any of these elements it usually results in a not guilty verdict.

Gender. Twenty-nine percent of male drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes had BAC's of 0.01 percent or greater, compared with 15 percent of female drivers. However, studies indicate that at BAC's ranging from 0.05 to 0.09 percent, crash risk may be greater for females than for males.

Research shows that women metabolize alcohol differently from men, causing women to reach higher BAC's at the same doses. For more information on the influence of alcohol depending upon gender, please see the recent 1982-2004 study here.

Combining medications with alcohol and driving. Combining certain medications with alcohol increases crash risk. Sedatives and tranquilizers alone can impair driving skills and can impair them even more when combined with alcohol. For example, low doses of "flurazepam", a sedative-hypnotic prescribed for the treatment of insomnia, alone can impair a driver's ability to steer. The effect of this medication can be compounded with even a small dose of alcohol consumed the next morning. Driving skills can be impaired by other medications, such as codeine, as prescribed to treat moderately severe pain. When combined with alcohol, such medications' adverse effects on driving skills are exacerbated, as are the effects of some antidepressants, most antihistamines, certain cardiovascular medications, and some anti psychotic medications.

Alcohol tolerance. The repeated performance of a particular task in association with alcohol consumption can lead to the development of a form of adaptation referred to as "learned" or "behavioral" tolerance. Learned tolerance can reduce the alcohol-induced impairment that would ordinarily accompany the performance of that particular task. However, when conditions change or when something unexpected occurs, the tolerance acquired for that task can be negated.

These findings may be applicable to the performance of tasks involved in drinking and driving. A driver who has developed behavioral tolerance to driving a familiar car over a particular route under routine circumstances may drive without being involved in a crash, despite consumption of some alcohol. However, when encountering a novel environment , for example, a detour or an unexpected situation, such as a bicycle darting in front of the car, this same driver would be at the same risk for a crash as a novice driver at the same BAC, due to lack of prior learning opportunities for these unexpected events.

If you or a love one you know has recently been involved in a DUI/DWI related situation, don't delay! Time is of the essence and so are an individual's civil liberties!

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