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Drinking and Driving: Risks, DUIs, & BAC Levels

The legal penalties for alcohol-related vehicular manslaughter are steep – in many states, prison sentences can be as long as 20 or 30 years. In Alaska, an airman with a BAC of 0.20 faced 99 years in prison for killing a woman in a fatal accident; he was sentenced to a maximum of 30 years. Of course, a prison sentence doesn’t compare with the outcome for victims who lost their lives. The CDC defines heavy drinking as consuming eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks per week for men.

Additionally, drunk driving often results in severe injuries that can have a long-lasting impact on survivors and their families. Although a smaller percentage of 16- to 20-year-old drivers drive after drinking compared with older drivers, when they do so, 16- to 20-year-olds consume more alcohol before driving. Based on NHTSA’s estimates of the BACs of drivers’ most recent drinking–driving trips (derived from survey results), 16- to 20-year-old drivers had an average BAC of 0.10 percent, three times the average BAC of adults (including 16- to 20-year-old drivers) who drove after drinking. Compounding the danger of driving with higher BACs, drivers ages 16 to 20 on average have 1.4 passengers with them when they drive after drinking, compared with an average of 0.79 passengers for all other age groups. Young drivers’ perceptions about how much they can drink and still drive safely also increase their risk.

Types of DUIs

Charges range from misdemeanors to felony offenses, and penalties for impaired driving can include driver’s license revocation, fines, and jail time. A first-time offense can cost the driver upwards of $10,000 in fines and legal fees. The year 2021 stands as a stark testament to the devastating consequences of drunk driving. A staggering 13,384 lives were lost in alcohol-impaired driving traffic deaths, representing a distressing 14% increase from the previous year. These are not mere numbers; they represent sons and daughters, parents and grandparents, friends and neighbors. Each of these lives held value, potential, and a future that was tragically cut short.

consequences of drinking and driving

During sentencing, the court will typically order that the driver’s license be revoked for a few months to a few years. The length of a revocation typically depends on the number of prior convictions and whether the offense involves certain aggravating factors. However, the court often has the discretion to issue a restricted hardship license to the driver.

Dangers & Risks of Drunk Driving

Interventions to decrease alcohol-impaired driving are likely to be most effective when aimed at all groups of drivers (Williams et al., 2007). The Gallup poll also reports that beer is the most commonly consequences of drinking and driving consumed of the three beverage types (Beer Marketer’s Insights, 2017). Prices of alcoholic beverages sold for off-premises consumption have become significantly more affordable from 1950 to 2011.

Utilizing designated drivers and ride-sharing services is a practical and effective way to prevent drunk driving. Designated drivers abstain from alcohol to ensure a safe journey for themselves and others. Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft provide convenient alternatives to driving under the influence, making it easier for individuals to make responsible choices.

Community Impact

These statistics correspond to our survey results that show 45 percent of men and 35 percent of women admitted to driving drunk. This article is dedicated to Becky Fiegl, age 32, and her son Timmy, age 22 months, who were fatally injured in a crash September 19, 1984, when their automobile was struck by a vehicle whose driver registered a BAC of 0.16 percent. The NHTSA survey described above (Royal 2000) also asked participants about their perceived chance of being stopped and arrested for drinking and driving.

The percentage of traffic deaths that are alcohol related also varies depending on the role of the person killed in the crash (i.e., whether the person killed was the driver, passenger, or pedestrian) and by the type of vehicle involved. In 2002, 41 percent of the drivers killed in crashes were killed in alcohol-related crashes, compared with 37 percent of passenger deaths and 47 percent of pedestrian deaths. Of all pedestrian deaths, 17 percent involved a driver who had been drinking and 38 percent involved a pedestrian who had been drinking. In 7 percent of pedestrian deaths, both the driver and the pedestrian had been drinking (NHTSA 2003f ). 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.

Dangers of Drinking and Driving: How Does Alcohol Affect Your Driving?

In the United States, blood alcohol measurements are based on the amount of alcohol, by weight, in a set volume of blood. For example, a BAC of 0.10 percent—a level at which it is illegal to drive in the United States—is the equivalent of 0.10 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. This translates, by weight, to a proportion of just under 1 gram of alcohol for every 1,000 grams of blood in the body (Jones and Pounder 1998). At this point, limited coordination and balance make it difficult to maintain a safe position in your lane.

Nationally, the number of arrests for drinking and driving increased sharply from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, but were substantially lower in the 1990s. Publicized sobriety checkpoints (Castle et al. 1995; Lacey et al. 1999; Shults et al. 2001) and comprehensive community education and enforcement programs (Hingson et al. 1996; Holder et al. 2000) have also been found to reduce alcohol-related fatal and injury crashes. In addition, a recent review of 112 studies provided strong evidence that impairment in driving skills begins with any departure from zero BAC (Moskowitz and Fiorentino 2000). The authors concluded that virtually all drivers tested in the studies reviewed exhibited impairment on some critical driving measure by the time they reached a BAC of 0.08 percent.

What Counts as a Drink?

Drivers between the ages of 16 and 20, and especially those ages 21 to 45, are likely to be involved in alcohol-related fatal crashes at a rate that is out of proportion to their percentage of the population. Although 14 percent of drivers in alcohol-related fatal crashes in 2002 were between 16 and 20, this age group represents only 7 percent of the population. Likewise, 49 percent of drivers in alcohol-related fatal crashes were ages 21 to 45, and this age group makes up 35 percent of the population. Most drivers in alcohol-related fatal crashes are male (73 percent) (NHTSA 2003a,e). Because of the way alcohol distributes itself throughout body fluids, it is possible to measure a person’s alcohol level by testing the urine, saliva, or water vapor in the breath, as well as by testing the blood.

consequences of drinking and driving

The resultant disadvantage may in turn compromise access to treatment (e.g., owing to cost or availability), heighten risk of co-occurring health problems, and perpetuate cycles of disadvantage (Schmidt et al., 2010). All alcohol-attributable mortality is in principle avoidable and future alcohol policies are likely to be most effective if they take into consideration any differential effect on socioeconomic groups (Probst et al., 2014). A crucial force in shaping the environments in which people make their decisions about drinking, which in turn affect their likelihood of drinking and driving, is the alcohol industry itself. Its practices and innovations in product development, pricing, promotion, and making its products physically available essentially structure the context of drinking for Americans. From 2003 to 2012, there was a nearly 21 percent increase in women 18 and over arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) and an 18.6 percent increase in women arrested for drunkenness. Despite this increase, men were still responsible for the majority of DUI arrests in 2012 – almost 650,000 compared with about 211,000 for women.

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