Not only is your attention compromised, but your ability to judge distance and assess the speed or movement of other vehicles is weakened. Furthermore, your reflexes are slowed and reaction time delayed, so if you face a hazard, you might not be able to react quickly enough.
Legal drugs (including prescription and over-the-counter medications) can affect your ability to drive too.
Over-the-counter or prescription drugs for colds, allergies, or headaches can make you drowsy. Energy pills and drinks, along with diet pills, can make you dizzy and unable to concentrate. Other drugs can impair judgment, vision, alertness, and reflexes. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist on how a medication may affect your driving ability. Read labels carefully for side effects that may affect your driving, and if there is a possibility of a negative side effect, don’t drive while taking the medication.
Although traffic fatalities are lower than they were at the turn of the century, alcohol-related crashes still kill about 10,000 people per year in the United States, with alcohol being a factor in one out of three motor vehicle deaths.
Despite all the warnings, public awareness and educational programs, and stiffer penalties for violations, people will still get behind the wheel of their vehicles while intoxicated. Drunk driving numbers for high schoolers decreased by half between 1991 and 2012, but teens are still at risk whether they are drivers or not.
Motor vehicle wrecks are the leading cause of death in the United States for persons between 15 and 24, whether as drivers or passengers. Among drivers ages 16-20 who die in crashes, around one in five had at least some alcohol in their system.
How Dangerous Is Drinking and Driving?
According to a 2014 study, an adult driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 is seven times more likely to be involved in a fatal motor vehicle crash than a sober driver. Young adult drivers (ages 21-34) with a 0.08 BAC are 12 times as likely to be in a fatal car crash than drivers who haven’t had alcohol.
Basically, the more you drink, the more likely you are to have a fatal accident. The odds of having any vehicle accident, fatal or otherwise, increase at similar rates. Here are the cold, hard facts.
Alcohol Increases Your Risk of a Crash
A 160-pound person drinking two 12-ounce beers within an hour would probably have a BAC of 0.04, well below the legal limits of driving under the influence, but 1.4 times more likely to have an accident than someone who is sober.4
One of the problems with setting the legal limit for “drunk driving” at a blood-alcohol content level of 0.08 is it sends the message that if you are not yet legally drunk, you are therefore okay to drive.
Impairment Begins Below 0.08 BAC
The problem lies in the fact that impairment begins long before you reach the 0.08 level. Scientific research explicitly shows that some of the skills that you need to drive safely begin to deteriorate even at the 0.02 blood-alcohol level.
Experiments have shown that drivers at the 0.02 level experience a decline in visual functions—their ability to track a moving object—and experience a decline in the ability to perform two tasks at the same time.
Is It Safe to Drink Just Two More Beers?
If you had those first two beers that raised your BAC to 0.04 and now you drink two more beers to raise your BAC to 0.08, your likelihood of an accident goes up drastically. At 0.08 BAC, a driver is 11 times more likely than a non-drinking driver to be involved in a crash. As the amount of alcohol in the driver’s system rises numerically on the BAC scale, the likelihood of a traffic accident multiplies.
Now add two more beers to your total, you are up to having consumed a six-pack and have likely passed the 0.10 BAC level. Your likelihood of having an accident is now 48 times higher than the abstainer.
Two more beers: Hey, you’ve already had a six-pack, two more couldn’t hurt, right? Except two more beers could put your BAC close to 0.15, at which point you are 380 times more likely to have an accident.
Play It Smart
Play it smart during weekends and holidays. If you plan to party away from home—and this includes on the water—be sure to appoint a designated driver for the car or operator of the boat.
Whatever you do, don’t get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking.
Consider calling a cab or using a rideshare app to get yourself and your loved ones home safely and protect everyone else on the road. Better yet, if you are going to be drinking away from home, use those options to get to the party so you don’t have a car handy that you’ll be tempted to drive when your judgment is impaired by alcohol.
Here are some drinking and driving statistics for Arizona:
- DUI arrests: In 2019, there were over 27,000 DUI arrests in Arizona.
- Alcohol-related fatalities: In 2020, there were 254 alcohol-related fatalities in Arizona, which was a decrease from the previous year.
- Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits: In Arizona, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.08% or higher if you are 21 or older, and 0.00% if you are under 21.
- Ignition interlock devices: Arizona has strict penalties for DUI convictions, and many first-time offenders are required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in their vehicle for at least 12 months.
- Repeat offenders: In 2020, over 5,000 people were arrested for DUI in Arizona who had at least one prior DUI conviction.
- Underage drinking and driving: In 2019, over 1,600 drivers under the age of 21 were arrested for DUI in Arizona.
It’s important to remember that driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not only illegal, but it can also have serious consequences, including fines, jail time, license suspension or revocation, and even death or injury to yourself or others. If you plan on drinking, make sure to designate a sober driver or use a rideshare service to ensure that you and others stay safe on the road.