Is “Buzzed Driving” as Dangerous as Drunk Driving?

A recent research study published in the journal Injury Prevention reports that driving with any measurable blood alcohol content – so-called “buzzed driving” – can be just as hazardous as driving while legally intoxicated. The study, performed by researchers at the University of California (San Diego), examined national accident records for nearly 600,000 crashes between 1994 and 2011. Researchers discovered that drivers who had been drinking – even those with blood alcohol levels as low as .01 – were 46 percent more likely to be found at-fault for causing car accidents than those drivers with no measurable blood alcohol content.

According to the data examined, increases in blood alcohol content (BAC) were commensurate with an increased likelihood of collisions, but any level of alcohol substantially raised the chance of a collision. Researchers stress that there is no “magic number,” though, and that BAC levels anywhere between .01 and .024 (the highest level seen in the study) all have a marked impact on the chances that the driver will cause an accident.

Links to major safety push

Though this study was not funded or endorsed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency tasked with ensuring the safety of America’s roadways, its results do support a recent legislative push undertaken by the agency. In 2013, the NHTSA began a campaign to have the country’s legal blood alcohol content limit – currently .08 in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam – lowered to .05, commensurate with more than 100 other developed countries around the world.

Given that the study indicates a dramatic increase in the likelihood of causing a drunk driving accident with a BAC as low as .01, and that there is no set BAC number at which a driver is suddenly “too drunk” to handle his or her vehicle, it could sway lawmakers to reconsider the NHTSA’s efforts. However, seeing as the study has only recently been released and has not yet been the subject of in-depth analysis, only time will tell if it is truly persuasive in the eyes of legislators tasked with making BAC recommendations.

Coincidentally, the study also supports the “Buzzed Driving Is Drunk Driving” campaign released by the NHTSA and the Ad Council in 2013. That public awareness program consists of a series of television, radio and print ads designed to alert drivers to the impact even a relatively small amount of alcohol can have on their ability to safely drive, and it features a pledge signed by more than 15,000 people who have agreed to not get behind the wheel after drinking.

In the meantime

With this study being so new, its impact – if it will have any at all – on lobbying efforts or legislation aimed at curbing drunk driving is yet to be seen. In the meantime, though, the fact remains that, according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drunk drivers kill an average of 30 people every day in America. If you have been injured or tragically lost a loved one due to the actions of an intoxicated driver, you have rights; seek the advice of a personal injury attorney in your area to learn more.


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