Study: Even slightly buzzed, drivers more apt to be blamed for crashes

The findings of one study show that at any level, alcohol consumption may increase drivers’ likelihood of causing potentially serious or fatal collisions.

Although most drivers in South Carolina and elsewhere are aware of the potential dangers of drinking and driving, alcohol-related collisions continue to be a problem. Unfortunately, such collisions frequently result in serious injuries or death for the drunk drivers themselves, as well as for the occupants in their vehicles and the drivers and passengers of the other vehicles involved. Often, people get behind the wheel, falsely believing they have not had too much to drink. Based on the findings of a study published in the Injury Prevention journal, even barely buzzed drivers may be at an increased risk for causing fatal accidents.

The effects of alcohol on drivers

Alcohol may have ranging effects on the human body, many of which may impact people's ability to safely operate motor vehicles. Some of the most common of these include the following:

  • Relaxation
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Reduced coordination and motor control
  • Decreased concentration
  • Visual impairments

Due to these and other effects of alcohol on the body, drivers may have difficulty steering and maintaining their lane position, controlling their speed and braking. Additionally, they may experience delayed responses to emergency situations or hazards that appear on the road.

Studying the link between BAC levels and official blame for collisions

Using the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System database, researchers from the University of California at San Diego, La Jolla studied 570,731 car accidents occurring between 1994 and 2011. Analyzing the contributing factors coded in the FARS database to measure blame for the wrecks, the study's authors also examined the BAC levels for the involved drivers. Their aim in conducting the study was to assess whether drivers were significantly more likely to be assigned official blame for a collision at a BAC level of 0.01 percent.

Even minimal alcohol consumption increases crash risk

Based on their findings, the study's authors report there is no safe amount of alcohol consumption for people who are planning on driving. Their evaluation showed a 46 percent greater likelihood of drivers being assigned official blame for an auto accident when they had a BAC level of 0.01 percent, versus the sober motorists with whom they crashed. An average adult man may reach this concentration level after consuming only one half of a 12-ounce beer.

As the BAC levels of drivers included in the study increased, so too did the chances of them being found at-fault for motor vehicle collisions. The researchers noted there was no threshold effect, meaning there was not a sudden transition from drivers being found blameless to them being blamed when their BAC levels reached .08 percent. Rather, their findings showed a smooth, steady increase in blame as people's BAC increased from 0.01 percent to 0.24 percent.

Working with a legal representative

When they are involved in drunk driving accidents, people in South Carolina and elsewhere may suffer serious injuries that require extensive medical care. In addition to resulting in undue medical expenses, this may also cause people to lose income if they must take time off work to recover. Therefore, those who have been injured in alcohol-related collisions may benefit from obtaining legal counsel. An attorney may help them understand their options for pursuing compensation, as well as determine how best to proceed given their unique circumstances.