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Severe and fatal car accidents can be linked to blood-alcohol content levels as low as 0.01 percent.
Drinking and driving is notoriously known for being dangerous, but it turns out that imbibing even one drink can seriously impair a driver.
University of California San Diego sociologist David Phillips and coauthor Kimberly M. Brewer found that blood-alcohol levels below the legal limit of 0.08 percent are still associated with injury and death-related vehicle accidents. The study, published in the journal “Addiction,” displayed that as little as one drink can impair a driver enough to cause a fatal or severe accident.
Phillips and Brewer looked at data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which includes information on all U.S. people involved in fatal car accidents. They examined the ratio of severe injuries to minor ones.
The data set had nearly 1.5 million people between 1994 and 2008. It covered all times of day accidents were reported and the blood-alcohol content of those involved by increments of 0.01 percent.
"Accidents are 36.6 percent more severe even when alcohol was barely detectable in a driver's blood," Phillips said.
Even with a BAC as low as 0.01, Phillips and Brewer discovered there are 4.33 serious injuries for every non-serious injury versus 3.17 for sober drivers.
"Compared with sober drivers, buzzed drivers are more likely to speed, more likely to be improperly seat-belted and more likely to drive the striking vehicle, all of which are associated with greater severity,” Phillips said.
The severity of the accident also seems to increase with BAC. Phillips and Brewer found that higher BAC correlated directly with increased average speed of the driver.
The findings persist even when such potentially confounding variables as inattention and fatigue are excluded from the analysis.
Eloisa Orozco, executive director of San Diego’s Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, said the study brings up a lot of points about drinking and driving.
“If you’re going to drink at all, don’t drive,” she said. “When in doubt, have a designated driver, it’s the best way.”
Phillips said he hopes this study will shed light to lawmakers regarding drinking.
"We hope that our study might influence not only U.S. legislators, but also foreign legislators, in providing empirical evidence for lowering the legal BAC even more," Phillips said. "Doing so is very likely to reduce incapacitating injuries and to save lives."