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Study shows correlation between BAC and fatal car accidents

In our previous post we discussed the drunk driving accident death of MTV star Ryan Dunn. Authorities say that Dunn was heavily intoxicated at the time of the accident with a blood alcohol content of 0.196 percent. Workers at the bar that he was at shortly before the accident say that Dunn did not appear intoxicated when he left, despite drinking a few beers. A new study shows however, that even “a few beers” can increase the severity of a car accident.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego found that drivers with even a 0.01 BAC had crashes that were on average 37 percent more severe than drivers who were completely sober. A 0.01 percent BAC is the equivalent of an adult male having a single light beer over a two hour period before driving. Dunn is believed to have had three beers and three shots of alcohol.

Speed was another contributing factor in the Dunn crash. Dunn was speeding at approximately 130 mph when his car ran off the road and burst into flames. Researchers say that this is consistent with their data which shows a correlation between the speed of a car crash and the elevated BAC of a driver.

Drivers with alcohol in their system are more likely to suffer severe injuries because they are less likely to wear seat belts and more likely to be the “striking” car in an accident. The correlation between alcohol and accident severity was consistent even when researchers controlled for factors such as distraction, time of day, and driver fatigue.

The study spanned car accident data from 1994 to 2008. In the last year of the study there were 50,430 vehicles and 84,026 individuals involved in fatal accidents. These accidents killed 37,261 individuals and caused 10,048 incapacitating injuries with high blood alcohol levels being the leading contributing factor in the accidents.

Source: Time, “Driving While Buzzed: No Amount of Alcohol Is Safe Behind the Wheel,” Meredith Melnick, 6/22/11

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