“Buzzed” Driving Still Potentially Deadly


A recent study suggests that even a single drink increases the risk of a car accident, even though the driver is not legally intoxicated.

Published in the journal Injury Prevention, the study looked at accident data from 570,000 fatal crashes between 1994 and 2011. The researchers found that even the lowest level of recorded BAC was related to a higher accident risk.

The data revealed that drivers with a BAC of .01 percent, the lowest recorded, were 46 percent more likely to be blamed for a crash than a sober driver.

How much is .01 percent BAC? For an average-sized man, only one-half of a 12-ounce beer would need to be consumed to reach the .01 percent threshold, far below the .08 legal limit.

Most people who occasionally drink wouldn’t necessarily feel the effects of 6 ounces of beer. But as the study shows, even that small amount could have a significant impact on your ability to operate a vehicle safely.

Why is the legal limit .08 percent?

In all U.S. states, you can be arrested for drunk driving if you have a BAC of .08 percent or more. In some instances, where your driving ability is severely and obviously affected, you can be arrested with a lower BAC, but it’s rare.

There’s really nothing concrete that separates the abilities of someone with a BAC of .07 percent from someone with a .08 percent BAC. This is just the number that legislators agreed on across the board.

According to Reuters Health, in some European countries, the legal limit is .05 percent. In Japan and Sweden, it’s even lower.

Should the legal limit be lowered?

Organizations like MADD are campaigning to have that limit lowered, and they are supported by research like this Injury Prevention study.

In 2012, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), 301 people were killed in drunk driving accidents. This represents 25 percent of all traffic fatalities and an 11 percent increase over the previous year. But these figures only accounted for accidents involving someone who had drunk enough to register a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher, the legal limit.

There were an estimated 9041 alcohol-related crashes, or auto accidents involving someone who had a BAC of greater than .01 percent. Many of these buzzed drivers were not over the legal limit, but they were blamed for causing an accident. Of those accidents, there were 5700 injuries—preventable injuries.

The problem with lowering the legal limit, to .05 percent is that many people enjoy having a drink or two with dinner. They want to go to the football game and have a few beers, or enjoy a glass of wine while out with friends for dinner. These people are your friends, yourself, and they are lawmakers. Lowering the legal limit is simply not popular.

But, as the research contends, lowering the legal limit could save lives and reduce accident costs. People who are involved in an accident caused by a drunk driver or a buzzed driver may have legal options to file a civil lawsuit in addition to any criminal prosecution the drunk driver may face.