New study results indicate that even a slight alcohol “buzz” makes a driver more likely to be at fault in a car accident.
The study, published in the journal Injury Prevention, analyzes fatal car crash data from more than 570,000 collisions between 1994 and 2011. The analysis shows that there appears to be no safe level of alcohol in the blood when it comes to driving, Reuters Health reports. The researchers analyzed drivers’ blood alcohol content (BAC) as well as clear indications of blame for an accident, such as a driver running a red light or driving in the wrong lane. At .01 BAC, the lowest level reported, a driver was 46 percent more likely to be solely at blame for a collision, according Reuters Health. For an average adult man, 12 ounces of beer will result in a .01 BAC, a level well below the legal driving limit of .08. As blood alcohol level rose, the researchers found, so too did the likelihood of blame for an accident.
Lead author David Phillips, a sociologist at the University of California, San Diego, said, “There’s nothing magical about .08.” A driver experiences no great change in driving capacity between .07 and .08, according to Reuters Health. “The lower we can make the legal BAC, the safer everyone will be,” Phillips said.
In many European countries, the legal blood-alcohol limit is .05, with even lower limits in force in Sweden and Japan, Phillips says. Given the new study’s data on “buzzed” drivers, only zero blood alcohol content can truly be considered safe. From the earliest legal definition of “drunk” driving in the U.S. –.15 BAC set in the 1930s – states gradually lowered the limit to .10 in the 1950s and 60s and, eventually, to the current .08, according to James C. Fell, senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Calverton, Maryland. Current research strongly indicates that the limit should be lowered further, to .05, Reuters Health reports. “Even if you’re not aware of it,” Fell observed, “you are impaired after one drink,” with inexperienced drinkers showing significant impairment at low BAC levels. Phillips urges insurance companies and safety organizations to take a closer look at the risks of “buzzed” driving.