Section 5.1. Effect of alcohol and other drugs on driver capabilities, including judgment, vision, reaction time and the order in which these effects occur
Drinking alcoholic beverages and other drug use is widely accepted in our society. Advertisers often portray drinking as glamorous and sophisticated. Yet the abuse of drugs, including alcohol, is costly. It takes its toll in broken relationships, poor health, wasted lives and sometimes death.
This problem is greatly compounded when someone who drinks alcohol or uses other drugs also drives. A great number of collisions involve drivers who use alcohol and/or other drugs.
All states now enforce a minimum drinking age of 21. Nevertheless, alcohol-related crashes are still a top safety problem.
Many people who use alcohol do not realize that it is a drug. The word alcohol is the commonly used term for the chemical substance ethanol, grain alcohol, or ethyl alcohol.
The effects of alcohol vary from person to person. Equal amounts of alcohol affect different people in different ways. Even though the severity of its effects vary, alcohol affects everyone who uses it. One of the most serious problems of alcohol is that of the drinking driver. The demands of the driving task are so great that every driver needs to be in the best condition possible. A person cannot afford to increase the risk of driving by having his or her skills reduced by alcohol.
Everyone needs to know how alcohol affects the mental and physical abilities needed for safe driving. Even non-drinkers will interact with impaired drivers on the roadway. Everyone who drives needs to know the importance of non-drinking.
When you consume alcohol, most of the alcohol is not digested. It is quickly absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the walls and lining of the stomach and small intestines. Once alcohol enters the bloodstream it is quickly circulated to the brain. Alcohol has its greatest effect on the parts of the brain that control judgment and reasoning, the most critical skills needed by drivers. Physical abilities become impaired soon after.
A driver affected by alcohol has a decreased ability to reason clearly and to make sound judgments. However, the driver may feel as though thinking and judging abilities are sharper and quicker than usual. Some people have a false sense of confidence after they have a drink or two. For example, some people think they can dance or even play pool better after a few drinks. There is nothing a person can do better after having a drink than she or he could do before having the drink. Drinking does not increase your ability to do anything better than you could before.
In addition, alcohol quickly diminishes the ability to concentrate. A decrease in the ability to concentrate greatly increases a driver’s level of risk. A person’s driving ability can be reduced after only one drink. A person’s driving ability decreases as the amount of alcohol in a person’s body increases. An alcohol-impaired driver is less apt to interpret correctly what he or she sees.
Alcohol also weakens a driver’s inhibitions, which are the inner forces of one’s personality that hold back or restrain one’s impulsive behavior. A driver’s inhibitions weaken as the alcohol content in the body increases. The person who is drinking may drive too fast, take needless risks or even drive into emergency situations without knowing or even caring what’s happening.
As more alcohol enters the bloodstream, the area of the brain that controls muscular movements and body control begins to slow down. Even after the driver recognizes danger, the brain takes longer than normal to process the information and react to the danger. Messages the brain sends to different parts of the body might become confused.
The muscular reactions of a driver who has been drinking can become slow and clumsy. Steering and braking movements can become uncoordinated. The driver might over-steer, brake late or not brake at all. The driver might not be able to negotiate turns properly and safely. Such actions cause drinking drivers to be involved in serious crashes. Alcohol affects a driver’s ability to see clearly. Night vision, peripheral vision, color vision, and depth perception are all impaired. Visual acuity, sharpness of vision, and peripheral vision are also reduced.
Alcohol also affects the reflex action of the eyes. At night, this impairment can be critical. As the headlights of oncoming vehicles come closer, the pupils of the eyes normally become smaller to shut out excess light. This reflex keeps the driver from being blinded by the glare of headlights. When the lights have passed, the pupils enlarge again to let in all available light.
But after only a few drinks, this reflex action is impaired. The pupils do not become small rapidly as bright lights approach, and they are slow to open after bright lights pass. As a result, the driver can be blinded temporarily and may continue to have blurred vision for some time after meeting each vehicle. For example, if a drinking driver is traveling 70 miles per hour and it takes three seconds for her or his pupils to return to normal, the person has driven over the length of a football field (100 yards) without being able to see.
Peripheral vision is also impaired by alcohol. When peripheral vision is narrowed, a driver must turn and look to the sides for potential problems. After a few drinks, though, drivers are usually not aware of restricted side vision. Therefore, they do not make the effort to turn and look to the sides. They are creating a hazard.
Once judgment and reasoning are affected, a person’s actions and behavior change. Just one drink can affect a person’s behavior. The same amount of alcohol does not affect all people the same way. Alcohol does not even affect one person the same way in all situations. The same person could have two different reactions to alcohol on two separate occasions.
One common effect of alcohol on behavior is a feeling of well-being. This feeling is known as euphoria. Some people with this euphoric effect think they can do anything. This feeling is only a state of mind, because alcohol depresses, or slows down, the working of the nervous system.
Alcohol-induced euphoria can cause people to take chances they normally would not take. This behavior can be deadly behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Alcohol can also change other types of behavior. People who drink often become angry or sad. Many become silly or even rude. Some of the resulting behavior depends on the person’s personality as well as the mood they were in when they begin to drink. Alcohol is often thought to be a mood enhancer. This means that when a happy person drinks, in most cases he will be happier; when an angry person drinks, in most cases she will get angrier. The best way to avoid these changes in behavior is to decide not to drink.
People who drink and drive can be a hazard to themselves and to others on the highway. Even a small amount of alcohol can increase the driving risk.
One of the most dangerous behaviors drivers can participate in is what has become known as impaired driving. When a driver is impaired and operating a motor vehicle, it is often because the driver has been consuming alcohol, but drivers can be impaired after using other drugs, both legal and illegal. Let’s look at what impaired drivers are doing to others on our highways.
In 2007, 12,998 people were killed in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes. These alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities accounted for 32 percent of the total motor vehicle traffic fatalities in the United States.
Traffic fatalities in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes decreased nearly 4 percent from 13,491 in 2006 to 12,998 in 2007. The alcohol-impaired-driving fatality rate per 100 million VMT decreased to 0.43 in 2007 from 0.45 in 2006.
The 12,998 fatalities in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes during 2007 represent an average of one alcohol-impaired-driving fatality every 40 minutes.
In 2007, all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico had by law created a threshold making it illegal per se to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher. Of the 12,998 people who died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes in 2007, 8,644 (67%) were drivers with a BAC of .08 or higher. The remaining fatalities consisted of 3,581 (28%) motor vehicle occupants and 773 (6%) non-occupants.
The national rate of alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities in motor vehicle crashes in 2007 was 0.43 per 100 million vehicle miles of travel.
The rate of alcohol impairment among drivers involved in fatal crashes was four times higher at night than during the day (36% versus 9%).
In 2007, 15 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes during the week were alcohol-impaired, compared to 31 percent on weekends.
In fatal crashes in 2007 the highest percentage of drivers with a BAC level of .08 or higher was for drivers ages 21 to 24 (35%), followed by ages 25 to 34 (29%) and 35 to 44 (25%).
The percentages of drivers involved in fatal crashes with a BAC level of .08 or higher in 2007 were 27 percent for motorcycle operators and 23 percent for both light trucks and passenger cars. The percentage of drivers with BAC levels of .08 or higher in fatal crashes was the lowest for large trucks (1%).
In 2007, 7,058 passenger vehicle drivers killed had a BAC of .08 or higher. Out of those 7,058 driver fatalities for which restraint use was known, 73 percent were unrestrained.
Drivers with a BAC of .08 or higher involved in fatal crashes were eight times more likely to have a prior conviction for driving while impaired (DWI) than were drivers with no alcohol (8% and 1%, respectively).
In 2007, 84 percent (12,068) of the 14,447 drivers with a BAC of .01 or higher who were involved in fatal crashes had BAC levels at or above .08, and 55 percent (7,974) had BAC levels at or above .15. The most frequently recorded BAC level among drinking drivers in fatal crashes was .16.1
In fatal crashes in 2007 a higher percentage of motorcycle riders had blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher than any other type of motor vehicle driver. The percentages for vehicle riders involved in fatal crashes were 27 percent for motorcycles, 23 percent for passenger cars, 23 percent for light trucks, and 1 percent for large trucks.
In 2007, 28 percent of all fatally injured motorcycle riders had BAC levels of .08 g/dL or higher. An additional 8 percent had lower alcohol levels (BAC .01 to .07 g/dL).
The percentage with BAC .08 g/dL or above was highest for fatally injured motorcycle riders among two age groups, 45-49 (41%) and 40-44 (37%) followed by ages 35-39 (35%).
Forty-one percent of the 2,182 motorcycle riders who died in single-vehicle crashes in 2007 had BAC levels of .08 g/dL or higher. Sixty-five percent of those killed in single-vehicle crashes on weekend nights had BACs of .08 g/dL or higher.
Motorcycle riders killed in traffic crashes at night were nearly four (3.667) times more likely to have BAC levels of .08 g/dL or higher than those killed during the day (44% and 12% respectively).
The reported helmet use rate for motorcycle riders with BAC levels .08 g/dL or higher killed in traffic crashes was 45 percent, compared with 66 percent for those with no alcohol (BAC = .00 g/dL).
Alcohol involvement – either for the driver or for the pedestrian – was reported in 49 percent of the traffic crashes that resulted in pedestrian fatalities. Of the pedestrians involved, 35 percent had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher. Of the drivers involved in fatal crashes, only 14 percent had a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher, less than one-half the rate for the pedestrians. In six percent of the crashes, both the driver and the pedestrian had a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher.3
Section 5.2. Relationship of the amount of alcohol consumed to BAC and the equivalence of different types of alcoholic beverages
WHAT IS AN AVERAGE DRINK?
An average 12 ounce can of beer (5% alcohol), an average 5-ounce glass of wine (12% alcohol) and an average ounce-and-a-half of whiskey (40% alcohol) all contain about the same amount of alcohol. Remember, not all beer is 5% alcohol, not all wine is 12% alcohol and not all whiskey is 40% alcohol; this is only a guideline. Some drinks contain more alcohol than a beer or a glass of wine or a shot. For example, a Long Island Iced Tea contains rum, gin, vodka, tequila and triple sec – almost three ounces of alcohol. A drink like this is not considered “one drink.”
WHAT IS BAC?
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is the amount of alcohol in an individual’s body, measured by the weight of the alcohol in a volume of blood. The BAC determines the amount of alcohol that can be consumed before an individual is presumptively impaired.
There are several ways to test an individual’s BAC. The most common method used by law enforcement officers is the breath-testing device, which measures the alcohol level in the breath from the lungs. BAC can also be determined by drawing blood and measuring the amount of alcohol in the blood itself. Blood alcohol concentration is directly correlated with the degree of impairment an individual displays when driving after drinking. Although an individual may not exhibit gross signs of impairment, he or she is nevertheless impaired, even at a BAC level lower than that allowed by most state laws.
There is no formula to determine BAC solely from the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed. BAC levels vary from person to person, and can vary within an individual on a case-by-case basis. An individual’s BAC depends on the person’s gender, weight, metabolism, the time period over which the alcohol was consumed, and the amount of food that was in the stomach prior to drinking. Although a person’s BAC can be estimated, the level cannot be determined solely by the number of drinks consumed, and cannot be precisely calculated by a person’s height and weight.
Blood alcohol concentration laws are different for drivers under the age of 21 because it is already illegal for these individuals to buy, possess or consume alcoholic beverages. Zero tolerance laws make it illegal for those under the age of 21 to drive after consuming any amount of alcohol, so the legal limit for these drivers is .02.
Presumption of impairment is .08 BAC. The reason for such a presumption is that everybody reacts to alcohol differently. Individuals can be the same sex, height and weight, and drink the same amount of alcohol, and one individual can be visibly far more impaired than the other.
HOW DO YOU SOBER UP?
Black coffee? Exercise? Cold shower? Sorry, but these are not much help. Give an impaired driver a cup of coffee and you have a wide-awake impaired driver. Run him around the block and you now have a wide-awake, tired impaired driver. Put him in a cold shower and now you have a wide-awake, tired, cold, clean impaired driver.
Time is the only way to sober up. About 90% of the alcohol a person drinks will be oxidized by the liver, which takes time. One to five percent of the alcohol is given off unchanged in urine, perspiration, and expired air. (The expired air is used by the police to measure your BAC.) The remainder of the alcohol in the blood is oxidized or burned up by various organs of the body. Each drink of alcohol increases the number of liver cells destroyed and eventually may cause cirrhosis of the liver. This disease is eight times more frequent among alcoholics than non-alcoholics. The most dramatic and noticeable result of alcohol abuse is its effect on the brain. Alcohol depresses the brain centers, resulting in these progressive effects: lack of coordination, confusion, disorientation, stupor, anesthesia, coma, and death. Alcohol kills brain cells and can cause permanent brain damage. Alcohol abuse over a period of time causes loss of memory, judgment, and learning disability.
Section 5.3. Legal consequences, including the increasing severity with repeated offenses and financial consequences of DUI (personal and societal)
PENALTIES FOR DUI:
- Fine: Not less than $500 to $1,000. With BAC level of .15 or higher or minor in the vehicle, not less than $1,000 or more than $2,000.
- Community Service: Mandatory 50 hours
- Probation: Not more than one year
- Imprisonment: Not more than six months. With BAC of .15 or higher or minor in the vehicle, not more than nine months.
- Driver License Revocation: Minimum 180 days
- DUI School: Twelve hours DUI School requirement; evaluation conducted to determine need for treatment.
- Ignition Interlock Device: Not less than six continuous months. With a BAC of .15 or higher or a minor in the vehicle not less than six continuous months for a first offense or not less than two continuous years for a second offense.
- Fine: $1,000 – $2,000. With BAC .15 or higher or minor in vehicle, not less than $2,000 or more than $4,000.
- Imprisonment: Not more than nine months. If the second conviction is within five years, mandatory imprisonment of at least 10 days; 48 hours of confinement must be consecutive.
- License Revocation: Minimum 180 days revocation; second conviction within five years, five year revocation
- DUI School: 21 hours.
- Evaluation conducted to determine need for treatment
- Ignition Interlock Device:Not less than six continuous months. With a BAC of .15 or higher or a minor in the vehicle, not less than six months for a first offense and not less than two continuous years for second offense.
- Fine: Not less than $2,000 and not more than $5,000. With BAC .15 or higher or minor in the vehicle, not less than $4,000
- Imprisonment: Not more than 12 months; for the third conviction within 10 years, mandatory 30 days in jail ; 48 hours must be consecutive.
- License Revocation: Minimum 180 days; third offense within 10 years after second conviction, 10 year revocation
- DUI School: 21 hours. Evaluation conducted to determine need for treatment
- Ignition Interlock Device: Minimum of two years
Fourth or More Conviction
- Fine: Not less than $1,000.
- Imprisonment: Not more than five years.
- License Revocation: Permanent revocation
FINANCIAL CONSEQUENCES OF DUI
The average DUI costs between $8,000 and $12,000 in fines and court costs. When attorney’s fees, insurance increases, probation, restitution, driver license reinstatement and immobilization of your vehicle are included, costs soar upwards. The DUI will also be on your permanent driver license record for 75 years. Drinking and driving is not only a personal problem; it is also a societal problem. It may cost the drinker’s family or whoever may meet a drinking driver on the highway. The cost to society is high because the cleanup process after a crash is a cost that taxpayers must carry. This includes emergency services, police enforcement and maintenance.
When you accept the privilege of driving a motor vehicle in the state of Florida, you are indicating in advance your consent to submit to a field sobriety test, breath test, and/or blood test to determine your BAC. You have the right to refuse such testing at the scene, but you will have your license suspended for a period of one year. For a second refusal, your license will be suspended for 18 months; you will also be committing a first-degree misdemeanor.
IS DRINKING FUN?
Where does one get the idea we must drink to have fun? The media plays a big part in making us think we must drink to have fun. Think about the last beer commercial you saw. What were the people doing? You’re right – they were having fun with friends, playing ball, bowling, skiing, or swimming. Have you ever seen any beer commercials without beautiful people in them? Beer commercials try to appeal to our desire for youth, beauty and popularity.
Do we have reasons to drink, or are they just excuses? Can you agree that the DECISION to drive after drinking is not a good one? Remember that EVERY CHOICE HAS A CONSEQUENCE. Good choices usually bring good consequences; bad choices often bring bad consequences. Bad choices in 2008 killed 1,169 people in Florida.
As we continue to drink, other parts of the body will slow down and eventually stop if enough alcohol is consumed. You can literally drink yourself to death in one sitting!4
Other Drugs and Driving
A drug is any chemical substance taken into the body by mouth, inhalation, injection, or through the skin that causes changes in the body and/or mind of the user. Medicines are drugs; over the counter and prescription medicines contribute to society’s drug problems.
Most drugs are classified according to the effects they have on the central nervous system and bodily functions. Drugs that are depressants depress, or slow down, the central nervous system. Alcohol is a depressant. Other drugs stimulate, or speed up, the nervous system, such as cocaine. Drugs can alter a person’s thinking process and personality.
When legal drugs are taken in moderate amounts and for the right reasons, they are relatively safe. However, any drug can become dangerous if it is taken in excess or otherwise misused or abused. Any drug can produce unwanted side effects.
When buying any medicine, check the label for warnings of how the drugs might affect driving performance. Some labels specify that you should not drive or operate heavy machinery after taking the drug. As a responsible driver, do not ignore such cautions.
Drugs that can be obtained legally without a doctor’s prescription (over-the-counter) can affect a person’s driving ability. These medicines provide relief from colds, hay fever, headaches, etc.
A drug that can be purchased legally only when ordered by a doctor is a prescription medicine. Most prescription medicines are stronger than over-the-counter medicines. Ask your doctor how a prescription medicine might affect your driving ability. If you take medicine prescribed by more than one doctor, make sure that each doctor knows about the other prescriptions.
Using two or more drugs at the same time can be very dangerous. You should not take more than one over-the-counter or prescription medicine without first consulting your doctor or a pharmacist.
Many alcohol-drug combinations increase driving risks; some combinations can be fatal.5
Section 5.4. Ways to avoid driving impaired
If you choose to drink alcohol, you need to consider the alternatives to driving under the influence. These responsible choices could be made with a little planning.
- Designated Driver – Choose one person in your group to be the “designated driver.” This must be someone who will not even consume one drink, whom you trust to stand by their commitment not to consume any alcohol. If your designated driver does consume alcohol, use one of the other suggested choices to get home safely.
- Taxi, Friend, Family Member – If you are drinking outside the home and you find yourself and/or your friends impaired you may want to call a cab, family member or a friend who has not been drinking to come pick you up. Nobody wants a loved one to be in an impaired state, but when they consider the alternatives, a friend or relative will gladly pick you up. Nobody who has been drinking should get behind the wheel!
- If you are drinking at a friend’s home and the suggestion is made that you spend the night, accept the invitation. Sleep on the floor if you have to – wherever you sleep, it will likely be more comfortable than a jail cell.
- Try limiting your drinks. Drink bottled water or juice in between. Spacing out your drinks will reduce your BAC. Also, stop drinking several hours before you need to drive. Remember, only time eliminates the effects of alcohol.
- Our recommendation is DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE!6