The Effects of Alcohol on Driving

The Effects of Alcohol on Driving

Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes — that’s one person every 50 minutes. These deaths have fallen by a third in the last three decades; however, drunk-driving crashes claim more than 10,000 lives per year. That’s about one-third of the 36,560 people killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes on U.S. roadways during 2018. (NHTSA)

An alcohol-impaired-driving fatality is defined as a fatality in a crash involving a driver or motorcycle rider (operator) with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or greater.

Alcohol is a substance that reduces the function of the brain, impairing thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination. All these abilities are essential to operating a vehicle safely.

The Effects of Alcohol on Driving

BAC is measured with a breathalyzer, a device that measures the amount of alcohol in a driver’s breath or by a blood test.

The Effects of Blood Alcohol Concentration

Below is a table describing BAC and typical effects of various BAC levels

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) in g/dL    Typical Effects    Predictable Effects on Driving
  .02  Some loss of judgment; relaxation, slight body warmth, altered moodDecline in visual functions (rapid tracking of a moving target), decline in the ability to perform two tasks at the same time (divided attention)
    .05Exaggerated behavior. May have a loss of small-muscle control (e.g., focusing your eyes), impaired judgment, usually good feeling, lowered alertness, release of inhibition  Reduced coordination, reduced ability to track moving objects, difficulty steering, reduced response to emergency driving situations
    .08Muscle coordination becomes poor (e.g., balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing), harder to detect danger; judgment, self- control, reasoning, and memory are impaired  Concentration, short-term memory loss, speed control, reduced information processing capability (e.g., signal detection, visual search), impaired perception
  .10Clear deterioration of reaction time and control, slurred speech, poor coordination, and slowed thinking  Reduced ability to maintain lane position and brake appropriately
    .15Far less muscle control than normal, vomiting may occur (unless this level is reached slowly or a person has developed a tolerance for alcohol), major loss of balance  Substantial impairment in vehicle control, attention to driving task, and in necessary visual and auditory information processing

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