Study: even low levels of alcohol before driving are dangerous

When most people are asked to identify dangerous drunk drivers, most would point to those who had several drinks before getting behind the wheel. At the very least, most people would say it would be necessary for the driver to reach the legal limit of .08 percent before he or she would be a threat to other drivers. However, a recent study published in Injury Prevention found that drivers that have consumed alcohol are dangerous at a level much lower than this.

The study, which was conducted by the University of California, San Diego, looked at 570,731 accidents that occurred between 1994 and 2001. To obtain the data, the researchers used the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which is a national database containing the car accident details of those that resulted in the death of at least one person involved.

Using the database, the researchers zeroed in on car accidents where the driver had consumed alcohol. Since there have been many studies on the driving performance of those with a high blood alcohol content (BAC), the researchers only looked at accidents involving drivers with a BAC of .01 percent. As a point of reference, most drivers at this level have consumed about half a beer.

According to the findings, although drivers with a .01 BAC are very much below the legal limit, they are 46 percent more likely to be responsible for a fatal car accident than drivers that had consumed no alcohol. The research also made another interesting discovery: A driver's likelihood of being responsible for an accident increases steadily as his or her BAC increases. Previously, it was thought that a driver's risk of causing an accident jumped suddenly once a certain BAC threshold was hit.

The study's findings seem to prove that the laws setting the legal limit are based on unsound logic and are thus ineffective at preventing drunk driving accidents. Considering that a driver is 46 percent more likely to cause an accident at .01 BAC, it would naturally follow that once the legal limit of .08 percent was reached, the driver would be exponentially more dangerous. This study was not the first to reach this conclusion. Before this study was conducted, the National Transportation Safety Board, based on the findings of its own research, requested states to lower the legal limit to .05 percent.

Although no action regarding the legal limit has yet been taken in Ohio, this does not mean that drivers below the legal limit go unpunished. If alcohol has impaired the driver's ability to drive in a reasonably safe manner, he or she may face a civil lawsuit for damages. If you or a loved one have been injured by an impaired driver, an experienced personal injury attorney can work to recover compensation for your medical bills, lost wages and other expenses resulting from the accident.