Alcohol Consumption and You — the Driver

Your blood alcohol level (BAL) may not be a true indication of your ability to drive. In fact, you may be closer to impairment and intoxication than a breath, blood or urine test indicates. The legal blood alcohol level limit in all states is 0.08 percent but many drivers are significantly impaired at 0.05 percent or less.

The amount of alcohol consumed is the major factor in determining if you are too impaired to be behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. While there is no safe blood alcohol level and impairment begins with your first drink, the higher your BAL, the more dangerous a driver you are.

Alcohol’s sedative effect first affects your judgment and reduces your ability to make sound decisions. That is why, once you begin consuming alcohol, it can be difficult to determine whether you should drive or not drive. Alcohol also has a negative influence on your coordination and your ability to control a vehicle.

Studies show that when your blood alcohol level reaches 0.08 percent, all your necessary driving skills are severely decreased. This includes:

  • Divided attention
  • Complex reaction time
  • Visual function
  • Tracking and steering
  • Emergency response
  • Coordination
  • Information processing
  • Judgment
  • Speed control

As your BAL increases, your ability to perform decreases. Research consistently shows that drivers under the influence of alcohol are at greater risk of experiencing a fatal crash than a personal injury crash.

Additional factors that may affect your risk of experiencing a collision after consuming alcohol include:

  • Drinking frequency
  • Age
  • Time of day
  • Day of week
  • Miles driven
  • Gender

Research also shows that the level and duration of alcohol’s effects on females are greater than they are on males. Females have smaller quantities of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase that breaks down alcohol in the stomach. As a result, females absorb about 30 percent more alcohol into their systems given equal consumption between males and females.

Additional variables that may affect your ability to drive after consuming alcohol include:

  • How tired you are
  • Food consumption
  • Medications
  • Your emotional state

These, and many other factors, can help determine how alcohol affects your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.

You can consume alcohol quickly but it is slow to remove from the body. Cold showers, coffee, and exercise have no affect on the rate of elimination. It takes time – approximately one hour and fifteen minutes – for your body to "burn up" the alcohol contained in one single drink.

And remember, even under similar environmental conditions, alcohol may have different effects each time you drink. There is one thing for which you can be certain – alcohol has a negative affect on your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.

Many drinkers successfully employ alternative options when faced with driving after consuming alcohol including:

  • Designating a driver
  • Taking advantage of "free-ride-home" programs
  • Calling a taxi
  • Staying at the drinking location overnight

It is the right of everyone age 21 and over to choose to drink. If you choose to consume alcohol, avoid the risk of drinking and driving for yourself and others on the road. Don't drink and drive.