If you’re like many people, you may have found yourself in situations where you have had a drink or two and still feel sober enough to drive. Perhaps you’ve even gone that extra step and actually gotten behind the wheel of your vehicle while impaired by alcohol, and somehow managed to survive the drive without any problems. If so, you can consider yourself fortunate. For thousands of other alcohol-impaired drivers and the unfortunate people who encounter them on the road, such good luck is never guaranteed. The fact is that the dangers of drinking and driving are so well-documented at this point that even the average school child recognizes the risk.
For Drivers who Drink, when is enough too Much?
Despite decades of activist and legislative action, many drivers continue to be confused about the rule of law when it comes to drinking and driving. Some people assume that they are free to have a drink or two without suffering any impairment that might put them in conflict with the statutory guidelines. Others are certain that they can drive just as well after drinking as they do sober. Unfortunately, all of those assumptions are wrong. The thing is that there is no standard number of drinks that any given person can safely consume before getting behind the wheel of a car or truck. Alcohol affects every person differently, due to a wide variety of individual and demographic factors. For example, the Byrd Health Sciences Center notes that there are gender and ethnic differences when it comes to the effect of alcohol on different populations.
White men with a family history of alcoholism are more keenly affected by alcohol than men with no such history. Native Americans, women, and Hispanic males are also more severely impacted by alcohol abuse and that can lead to more incidents of drinking and driving. Moreover, factors like body weight and the time between drinking and taking the wheel also play a critical role in determining just how impaired any individual might be. And it is important to note that the average person is so different in individual reaction to alcohol that even one drink can adversely affect some people.
The use of other drugs – both illegal substances and prescription medications – in conjunction with alcohol can increase impairment levels. Still, even without those added factors, alcohol slows reaction time, reduces focus and cognitive skills, confuses coordination, and impairs visual function.
From a purely technical standpoint, there is no simple answer to the question of just how much alcohol a person can drink without being considered too impaired to drive. There is, however, an easy answer with respect to what the law says on the matter. In the United States, all 50 states have established a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% as the upper legal limit. Any adult with a BAC that exceeds that amount, by statute, can be found guilty of either DWI (driving while impaired) or DUI (driving under the influence). A driver younger than 21 is not permitted to drive with any alcohol in his or her system. Any blood alcohol concentration above zero can get those younger drivers arrested.
A Widespread Problem
The problem of drinking and driving is one that continues to plague the United States. While education and legal consequences have made some headway against this epidemic of impaired driving, there is still much to do to eliminate the problem altogether. It is a dilemma that remains widespread, injuring or killing far too many Americans each year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9,967 alcohol-related fatalities were recorded in 2014. That is a staggering number when you consider that it amounts to more than 30% of the recorded traffic fatalities for that year. In other words, almost one-third of those traffic deaths were entirely preventable. It could have been worse, of course. The CDC also reports that law enforcement arrested more than a million alcohol or drug-impaired drivers in 2014.
According to estimates released by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the numbers reveal that, on average, one person is harmed in an alcohol-related crash every two minutes in the United States. Each day, this tragic phenomenon takes the life of roughly 27 people in the country. Worse, studies indicate that the average offender drives while impaired on more than eighty separate occasions before they are arrested for their first offense. Each year, roughly 121 million separate incidents of drunk driving take place. Less than one percent of those drivers ever face arrest.
A Texas Plague
The problem is equally pronounced in Texas. In 2014 alcohol-related crash statistics for the state reveal a troubling pattern of reckless drinking and driving behavior. That year, there were 1,041 fatalities as a result of impaired driving crashes involving alcohol, with more than 14,000 other injuries reported by law enforcement. Of those killed in the crashes, the impaired drivers accounted for 677 of the deaths. 163 were passengers inside drivers’ cars and trucks, another 163 were people driving or riding in other vehicles struck by the impaired drivers. And 37 victims were pedestrians or cyclists who were hit by those drunk drivers.
The Battle Continues…
Though the rate of alcohol-related traffic deaths has been cut in half over the last three and a half decades, the problem remains a major cause for concern. Ongoing efforts will continue to focus on education and statutory enforcement, but new technological devices present new avenues for hope. New strategies such as the placement of impaired driving prevention features in automobiles could help to lower those crash rates even more.
For drivers, the important thing to remember is that even one drink can be too much. The issue continues to be the amount of alcohol that a driver’s body can metabolize over a given period of time, and that varies from person to person. Because of that, the safest option is to avoid drinking and driving altogether by either abstaining if you know you have to drive or simply find a designated driver to ensure that you safely reach your destination. Your life and the lives of those around you may depend on that kind of smart decision.