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Zero tolerance for drinking and driving is best

Harold Mandel's picture
Don't drink and drive

Drinking and driving really does kill. Most everyone has taken a chance and driven after a couple of drinks and everyone should stop taking this chance. Scenes of completely totaled cars and bloody injured and dead bodies on the roads from accidents associated with drinking and driving are commonplace. It's all the more frightening to realize even the most careful drivers among us can be smashed head on by a drunk driver at any time. So what's the actual safe level for drinking and driving is a question which is on a lot of people's minds. Recent research shows any level of alcohol in the blood actually impairs your ability to drive well.

There is no safe combination of drinking and driving, reports Injury Prevention. Laboratory studies have found that driving is impaired even at blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.01%. However, no real-world traffic studies have previously been done to investigate whether minimally impaired drivers (BAC=0.01%) are more likely to be blamed for a crash than are the sober drivers whom they collide with. The researchers decided to determine whether official blame for a crash increases significantly at BAC=0.01%.

The researchers found that even minimally ‘buzzed’ drivers are 46 percent more likely to be officially blamed for a crash than are the sober drivers they crash with. It was concluded by the researchers that there does not appear to be any safe combination of drinking and driving. There is an increased risk to themselves and to others in even minimally ‘buzzed’ drivers. Therefore concerns about drunk driving should also be extended to what has been termed ‘buzzed’ driving. It has also been suggested that U.S. legislators reduce the legal BAC limit, perhaps to 0.05%, as is the level in most European countries. It is likely lowering the legal BAC limit would reduce injuries and save lives.

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Drinking and driving is unsafe at any level, reports UC San Diego in a discussion of this research on Jan. 16, 2014. Even very low blood alcohol content has been found to be associated with causing car crashes. A University of California, San Diego study of accidents in the United States has found even “minimally buzzed” drivers are more often to blame for fatal car crashes than the sober drivers they collide with. The researchers considered “buzzed drivers,” to have a BAC 0.01 to 0.07 percent, and “minimally buzzed drivers” to have a BAC 0.01 percent.

The researchers, led by UC San Diego sociologist David Phillips, found that even though drivers with BAC 0.01 percent are well below the U.S. legal limit of 0.08, they are 46 percent more likely to be officially and solely blamed by accident investigators than are the sober drivers with whom they collide with. Of significance also is that there was no “threshold effect” found, meaning there was “no sudden transition from blameless to blamed” at the legal limit for drunk driving. Blame was found to increase steadily and smoothly from BAC 0.01 to 0.24 percent. However, in spite of this evidence, “buzzed” drivers are often not punished any more severely than their sober counterparts.

Phillips says the findings are unequivocal. He has commented, “We find no safe combination of drinking and driving –no point at which it is harmless to consume alcohol and get behind the wheel of a car.” He has gone on to say the data from this research supports both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s campaign that ‘Buzzed driving is drunk driving’ and the recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board, to lower the legal limit to BAC 0.05 percent. The data from this research actually offer support for even greater reductions in the legal BAC. NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman has said in a statement, “Alcohol-impaired crashes are not accidents. They are crimes. They can – and should – be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will.”

I have witnessed the devastation and shock associated with serious injuries and lost lives from car crashes due to drunken driving many times over the years. It is shocking that even with the crackdown on drunk driving, with stiffer penalties for offenders, that the problem persists. Everyone should consider what it would be like for you or a family member to be crippled or killed in a drunk driving accident, or to be responsible for this happening to someone else. The potential devastation to your life and those of others is so serious in such scenarios that clearly counseling about drinking and driving should be considered a critical public health issue. It appears zero tolerance for drinking and driving is the best goal for everyone.