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In the United States, the blood-alcohol limit may be 0.08 percent, but no amount of alcohol seems to be safe for driving, according to a University of California, San Diego sociologist. A study led by David Phillips and published in the journal Addiction finds that blood-alcohol levels well below the U.S. legal limit are associated with incapacitating injury and death.

Phillips, with coauthor Kimberly M. Brewer, also of UC San Diego, examined official data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). This dataset includes information on all persons in the U.S. who were involved in fatal car accidents – 1,495,667 people in the years 1994 to 2008. The researchers used FARS because it is nationally comprehensive, covering all U.S. counties, all days of the week and all times of day, and, perhaps most important, reports on blood-alcohol content in increments of 0.01.

Accidents are 36.6 percent more severe even when alcohol was barely detectable in a driver’s blood,

Phillips said.

Even with a BAC of 0.01, Phillips and Brewer write, there are 4.33 serious injuries for every non-serious injury versus 3.17 for sober drivers.

There are at least three mechanisms that help to explain this finding, Phillips said:

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.

In general, accident severity is significantly higher on weekends, between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. and in the summer months, June through August. But when the researchers standardized for day of the week, for time of day and for month, the relationship between BAC and more dangerous car accidents also persisted.

The U.S. national standard of 0.08 is relatively recent and that BAC limits vary greatly by country. In Germany, the limit is 0.05; in Japan, 0.03; and in Sweden, 0.02. Hopefully comparing the findings of a study like this and our current policy will help legislators to realize that no amount of alcohol makes it safe to drive.

Doing so is very likely to reduce incapacitating injuries and to save lives.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of California – San Diego. The original article was written by Inga Kiderra.

Journal Reference:

  1. David P. Phillips, Kimberly M. Brewer. The relationship between serious injury and blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in fatal motor vehicle accidents: BAC = 0.01% is associated with significantly more dangerous accidents than BAC = 0.00%. Addiction, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03472.x