Study: "Designated drivers" still drinking, increasing car accident risks

1174747_by_a_beer.jpgHere at Aaron Sachs & Associates, P.C., our personal injury lawyers frequently work with the victims of drunk driving accidents, so we know how devastating these crashes can be. To discourage impaired driving, we often blog about the many alternative options available to drivers who find they've had too much to drink. However, research conducted by the University of Florida at Gainesville suggests that one such option - appointing a designated driver - may not be as safe as was once believed.

The study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, found that more than a third of so-called "designated drivers" still consume some amount of alcoholic beverages prior to getting behind the wheel. In fact, about half of designated drivers drink enough to register blood alcohol levels of 0.05% or above, which is enough to impair driving performance. The study has raised certain questions regarding the precise definition of a designated driver: is it a person who completely abstains from drinking for an entire evening, or the person who has had the least to drink by the end of the evening? Research shows a reoccurring trend of the designated driver being the person who is the least intoxicated by the end of the evening. This finding has raised renewed concern about roadway safety, because drinking any amount of alcohol can hinder a driver's performance and place other motorists in danger.

Currently, the legal blood alcohol concentration limit for drivers is 0.08%. However, people's motor skills begin to be affected when their BAC reaches 0.02%, and they show signs of impairment at 0.05%, according to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that states lower the legal blood alcohol level for drivers from 0.08% to 0.05%. In addition, the NTSB recommended improving sobriety checkpoints and ignition-interlock technology that prevents a car from starting when a driver has been drinking.

Here in the U.S., the current standard has been in place since 2004. Reducing the legal blood alcohol limit to 0.05% would match over 100 other countries' legal blood alcohol level. There has been a noticeable reduction in fatal auto accidents in countries that lowered their acceptable BAC levels, and the NTSB believes that lowering the blood alcohol limit would help reduce fatal auto accidents for Americans as well. The proposal has gained support from state highway officials, but is not as popular with beverage industries and restaurants. Those against lowering the BAC level argue that most offenders that are involved in serious accidents have BACs much higher than the 0.05%-0.08% range. Despite this argument, the NTSB maintains that changing the law would help reduce the 10,000 deaths that occur yearly due to drunk-driving.

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