Experimental research has revealed that drivers' abilities become impaired long before they reach the legal limit for being under the influence. Now a massive study of fatal traffic crashes has found that there is really no safe level of alcohol consumption at all for drivers.
Auto crashes produce more severe injuries even when drivers have only trace amounts of alcohol in their systems.
Researchers at the University of California San Diego, studied 1,495,667 people who were involved in fatal car crashes from 1994 through 2008. The study comes from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) which reports on the blood-alcohol content of driver's in increments of 0.01.
Any Alcohol Is Unsafe for Drivers
The FARS report comes from every U.S. county, all days of the week and all times of the day.
David Phillips, a sociologist at the university, found that blood-alcohol levels far below the legal limit for drunken driving of 0.08 were linked to serious injury and death in auto crashes.
Accidents are 36.6 percent more severe even when alcohol was barely detectable in a driver's blood, Phillips wrote in his published study. Even with a BAC of 0.01, there are 4.33 serious injuries for every non-serious injury versus 3.17 for sober drivers, he said.
Causes More Severe Injuries
The details of the FARS data revealed three reasons that even low alcohol levels in drivers are linked to more serious injuries:
- Impaired drivers are more likely to speed.
- They are less likely to use a seat belt.
- The are more likely to be the driver of the striking vehicle.
Lowering the Legal Limit?
All of the above circumstances can result in more serious injuries in a auto crash. Drivers of striking vehicles suffer more serious injuries that the drivers of a vehicle that is struck by another, the study said.
Each of the above three circumstances is likely to increase the more the driver has had to drink. For example, the more the driver has had to drink, the greater the speed of the vehicle.
The researchers recommend that the current legal limit of 0.08 for driving under the influence be lowered even further, pointing out that the legal limit in Germany is 0.05; in Japan, 0.03; and in Sweden, 0.02.
Source: Phillips, D, et al. "The relationship between serious injury and blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in fatal motor vehicle accidents: BAC = 0.01% is associated with significantly more dangerous accidents than BAC = 0.00%." Addiction. 20 June 2011.