Study shows even a trace amount of alcohol is unsafe behind the wheel


by Michael Pines, Accident & Injury Prevention Expert

Driving under the influence is considered unsafe, but how much is exactly too much? The law says that a 0.08 blood alcohol level from behind the wheel is, technically, the legal limit for alcohol consumption before it becomes an illegal offense in California. But now, researchers at UC San Diego have released findings that indicate even a trace amount – a blood alcohol level of just 0.01 – is simply too much from behind the wheel.

Incredibly, a blood alcohol level of just 0.01 is the equivalent of half a beer for most people. In other words, that “harmless” buzz is in fact harmful since even a trace amount of alcohol can impair driving ability, according to the study.

Details of the study

Researchers David Phillips and Karen M. Brewer at the University of San Diego conducted a study surrounding alcohol consumption and its correlation to alertness on the road. Phillips and Brewer concluded “there are 4.33

serious injuries

for every non-serious injury versus 3.17 for sober drivers.” In simple language, this means the risk for

car accidents

increases in the presence of alcohol.

“Accidents are 36.6 percent more severe even when alcohol was barely detectable in a driver’s blood… Compared with sober drivers, buzzed drivers are more likely to speed, more likely to be improperly seat-belted and more likely to drive the striking vehicle, all of which are associated with greater severity.” Phillips said.

Should the United States revise the current law surrounding impaired driving?

Most any lawmaker could evaluate the study and conclude that any amount of alcohol may be too much from behind the wheel. After all, if the risk of car accidents increases no matter how much alcohol is consumed, why take the chance?

Unfortunately, our lawmakers are not necessarily convinced. As it stands, the current law finds that a blood alcohol level of 0.08 is an illegal offense in California. But other areas of the world aren’t nearly as lenient. For instance, countries like Brazil and Russia have zero-tolerance for any consumption of alcohol prior to driving. Others like Sweden and China establish limits at a modest 0.02 blood alcohol limit. Even U.S.-owned Puerto Rico enforces a 0.02 blood alcohol level – but the United States does not.

The study doesn’t stop there: researchers found that the more alcohol is consumed, the higher the speed of a vehicle will likely be – in other words, alcohol not only will impair a driver’s abilities, but it will also cause the driver to increase their speed. And, accident severity in the presence of alcohol is almost always up on the weekends. The study also showed a link between a lack of seat belt use in the presence of alcohol use.

Safe driving options for San Diego

Fortunately, the city of San Diego offers community resources to help prevent needless car accidents and injury on our roadways. Consider the following ideas to do your part in stopping DUI-related car accidents and fatalities:

Prepay your taxi ride home

Drivers who expect to consume alcohol at their destination should buy prepaid taxi cab rides to ensure a safe ride home. Most cards run for $30 which can ultimately save your life.

Join a safe ride program

A safe ride program allows those who have indulged in alcohol to call upon a ride when needed. An off-duty officer will pick you up and drop you off where needed with no-questions-asked. Simply find the nearest safe ride program in your neighborhood (a quick web search will yield dozens of local options).

Call 911 if you suspect a drunk driver on the road

If you’ve elected to be your group’s designated driver, help keep roads safe by reporting suspected drunk drivers. Be on the lookout for swerving, speeding, and irregular driving behavior, and immediately call 911 to report the incident. Please – don’t forget – always pull over to place your call.

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