The Dangers of Drunk Driving

Police officer taking sobriety test of man
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Although traffic fatalities have been on the decline since 2007, alcohol-related crashes still kill about 10,000 people per year in the United States, with alcohol a factor in one out of three motor vehicle deaths.

Despite all the warnings, public awareness and educational programs, stiffer penalties for violations, people will still get behind the wheel of their vehicles while intoxicated. Drunk driving numbers for youths and teens decreased by half between 1991 and 2012, they are still at risk whether they are the drivers or not.

Motor vehicle wrecks are the leading cause of death in the United States for persons under age 24, whether as the driver or the passenger, with almost half involving alcohol as a factor in the crash.

How Dangerous Is Drinking and Driving?

A driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.10 or greater is seven times more likely to be involved in a fatal motor vehicle crash than a driver who has not consumed alcoholic beverages, and a driver with an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or greater is about 25 times more likely.

Basically, the more you drink, the more likely you are to have an accident—and a fatal one. The same applies to the likelihood of having any vehicle accident, fatal or otherwise. Here are the cold, hard facts.

More Likely to Have a Crash

A 160-pound person drinking two 12-ounce beers within an hour would probably have a BAC of 0.02, well below the legal limits of driving under the influence, but 1.4 times more likely to have an accident than someone who is sober.

One of the problems with setting the legal limit for "drunk driving" at a blood-alcohol content level of 0.08 is it sends the message that if you are not yet legally drunk, you are therefore okay to drive.

Impairment Begins Below 0.08 BAC

The problem lies in the fact that impairment begins long before you reach the 0.08 level. Scientific research shows explicitly that some of the skills that you need to drive safely begin to deteriorate even at the 0.02 blood-alcohol level.

Experiments have shown that drivers at the 0.02 level experience a decline in visual functions—their ability to track a moving object—and experience a decline in the ability to perform two tasks at the same time.

Is It Safe to Drink Just Two More Beers?

If you had those first two beers that raised your BAC to 0.08 and now you drink two more beers, your likelihood of an accident goes up almost tenfold. At 0.08 BAC, a driver is 11 times more likely than the non-drinking driver to be involved in a crash. As the amount of alcohol in the driver's system rises mathematically on the BAC scale, the likelihood of a traffic accident multiplies.

Now add two more beers to your total, you are up to having consumed a six-pack. The likelihood of having an accident is now 48 times higher than the abstainer and the driver has just now passed the 0.10 BAC level.

Two more beers: Hey, you've already had a six-pack, two more couldn't hurt, right? Except two more beers could put your BAC close to 0.15 at which point you are 380 times more likely to have an accident.

Play It Smart

Play it smart during weekends and holidays. If you plan to party away from home—and this includes on the water—be sure to appoint a designated driver for the car or operator of the boat.

Whatever you do, don't get behind the wheel if you've been drinking.

Consider calling a cab or using a rideshare app to get yourself and your loved ones home safe and protect everyone else on the road. Better yet, if you are going to be drinking away from home, use those options so you don't have a car handy you'll be tempted to drive when your judgment is impaired by alcohol.

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Article Sources
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  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic Safety Facts 2016 Data: Alcohol-Impaired Driving. 2017.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen Drinking and Driving. Updated October 2, 2012.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Impaired Driving: Get the Facts. Updated March 22, 2019.

  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Alert No. 31 PH 362 January 1996. Updated October 2000.