Understanding the Impact of Alcohol on the Ability to Drive

I was recently contacted by an English class that had found a page on my website on Teenage Driving Issues – The class encouraged me to add the following page to the website – I agreed – it is an excellent page written by Edson Farnell..credit is given to Mr. Farnell for the excellence of his article. H. Michael Steinberg

Vehicle Safety: Dangers of Drunk Driving

Drunk driving, the act of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated or under the influence of mind-altering substances, is a criminal offense in all jurisdictions within the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 17,941 people fell victim to an alcohol-related accident that resulted in a fatality. In clear perspective, that equates to nearly 40 percent of all traffic deaths in the United States.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines traffic accidents as alcohol-related if a driver, passenger, pedestrian, or another non-motorist had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01 percent or higher. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration specifies that an alcohol-related collision does not necessarily mean any of the victims involved were tested, nor that the accident was directly caused by alcohol influence. Statistically, drivers with a blood-alcohol content level higher than 0.10 percent are more likely get into a fatal collision or injury than sober drivers.

What is Drunk Driving?

Drunk driving involves physically attempting to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, and/or prescription drugs. Drunk driving, a criminal offense in all jurisdictions across the United States, usually applies to all motor vehicles, aircraft, boating, machinery, and horse-drawn carriages. Each jurisdiction refers to drunk driving under one of four classifications, including “driving under the influence” (DUI), “driving while intoxicated” (DWI), “operating while impaired” (OWI), or “operating a vehicle under the influence” (OVI). Violators often serve jail time, pay steep fines, enroll into DUI programs, or are forced to install ignition-lock devices for repeated offenses. Some may have their driver’s license or permit temporarily or permanently revoked. The severity of punishment will vary according to each case, depending on the BAC level of the driver.

  • Alcohol Problems and Solutions: Drinking and Driving: Driving while intoxicated or under the influence is dangerous and drivers with a blood-alcohol content level have a higher chance of getting into fatal or injurious collisions than their counterparts.
  • Drunk Driving Statistics and Facts: A compilation of various statistics and facts about drunk driving, including alcohol and non-alcohol comparisons, alcohol-related crash facts, safety belts factored into saving lives from drunk drivers, the overall cost of alcohol-related collisions, and statistics related to those collisions with or without a designated driver.
  • Drinking and Driving in Relation to College Students: A comprehensive source citing drinking and driving as the leading cause of death among college students. It includes information addressing implied consent, DUI infractions, the risks of alcohol consumption behind the wheel, and methods for choosing a designated driver.
What is BAC, Field Sobriety Testing, and Breathalyzer?

Law enforcement officers will typically conduct a field sobriety test to determine the blood alcohol concentration of the driver. In short, the blood alcohol content (BAC), also known as blood alcohol concentration, is a metric unit of measurement used in determining alcohol intoxication of a suspect for legal or medical reasons. A field sobriety test consists of forcing a suspected drunk driver to walk on a straight line, heel touching toe, usually on a painted parking lot divider, or standing on one leg for more than thirty seconds. The law enforcement officer will determine if the suspect should be arrested or not.

All law enforcement officers must conduct a field sobriety test as dictated by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Additionally, a law enforcement officer may administer a breathalyzer test to assess the suspected drunk driver’s BAC level. The breathalyzer, an approved screening device, will provide the BAC level of the suspected drunk driver by the amount of pressure applied blowing onto the apparatus.

  • Alcohol and the Breathalyzer Test Module (PDF): A module addressing pertinent questions regarding blood alcohol content and how the breathalyzer test measures BAC levels in a tested subject.
  • Driving While Intoxicated (DWI): A comprehensive resource page describing the procedures for those caught driving while intoxicated in North Carolina, including probable cause for stop and arrest, field sobriety testing, breathalyzer tests, the consequences of impairment and refusal, and the costs, fines, and punishment for DWI convictions. ( This is NOT 100% applicable to Colorado — but it is helpful).
  • Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST): The Standardized Field Sobriety tests include three performance tests to prove sobriety to operate a motor vehicle. These three tests include: horizontal gazing, walk and turn, and standing on one leg without losing one’s balance.
What are the Effects of Alcohol on the Mind and Body?

Alcohol, one of the world’s oldest known mind-altering substances, is created from fermented grain, fruit juice, and honey. Alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant. Alcohol tolerance will greatly depend on the consumer’s age, gender, physical condition, amount of food eaten, and other narcotics or prescription drugs taken at the time of intoxication.

In low doses, alcohol relieves tension, removes inhibitions, distorts concentration and judgment, disrupts motor reflexes, slows reaction time, and reduces coordination. In moderate doses, alcohol slurs speech, causes drowsiness, and alters emotions. In large doses, alcohol can produce vomiting, breathing difficulties, unconsciousness, and coma. Most US jurisdictions define the legal limit of intoxication before getting behind the wheel at 0.08 percent BAC.

How Many Fatal Collisions Occur Per Year in the United States?

An estimated 1,355 of 3,434 California residents were killed in fatal traffic accidents in 2008 as a result of alcohol, narcotics, or prescription drug intoxication. In fact, 28,436 people were severely injured in alcohol-related collisions in California alone in 2008. The majority of DUI arrests were male, typically 30 years old or younger. However, the percentage of DUI arrests for female drivers has risen considerably over the last decade. Additionally, the average DUI offender had an average of 0.16% BAC levels, which is double the legal limit.

Nationally, 10,839 of 33,808 people died of alcohol-related fatal collisions, which accounts for nearly 32% of all traffic deaths. One person dies in the United States every 48 minutes as a result of alcohol-related traffic accidents. In 2009, 181 children died as a result of drunk driving, with over half of them driving with the alcohol impaired driver. A staggering 1 in 3 people will be involved in an alcohol-related traffic accident in their lifetime. Over 75% of all previous offenders will continue to drive, despite having their driver’s license revoked.

  • 2007 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment – Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities (PDF): The 2007 National Traffic Safety Administration’s annual statistical report, including the percentage of alcohol-related impaired drivers involved in fatal collisions within the United States.
  • Impaired Driving: Get the Facts: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention shares statistical data involving the injuries and deaths directly related to impaired driving, including how big the problem extends, who is directly affected, and prevention methods to save lives.
  • Drunk Driving Research: Due to awareness and law enforcement crackdowns, fatal traffic accidents have decreased 42% since 1982. However, more prevention is needed to cut the rate of current alcohol-related accidents.
Organizations against Drunk Driving:

In an effort to actively fight against drunk driving, several organizations formed to promote education and awareness to the general public. Most of these organizations were created by the victims or family members of those injured or fatally wounded in an alcohol-related accident. Law enforcement agencies will often collaborate with these organizations to hold meetings, distribute pamphlets, conduct educational seminars, and remain vigilant in their communities for potential violators. Some of these organizations include: Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), Drunk Driving Prevention Organization (DDPO), Smart and Sober, Safe Ride Home, Young Adults Educating Responsible Drinking (YAERD), DUI Hope, People Against Drunk Driving (PADD), Save a Life, and more.

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