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Study: Even buzzed drivers much more likely to cause a car crash

Drunk driving has long been and continues to be one of the most deadly hazards on U.S. roads and highways. Here in Tennessee and around the country, a person is considered legally drunk when they have a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher.

Does this mean that a BAC below 0.08 percent is safe and relatively harmless? According to the results of a recent study, the answer is a clear “no.” Any degree of alcohol impairment seems to increase crash risk. Researchers say that drivers are much more likely to cause a car accident even when “minimally buzzed” than they would be if completely sober.

For the study, researchers examined data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, an information-rich database of fatal auto accidents in the United States. Researchers combed through 570,731 fatal accidents that occurred between 1994 and 2011.

The results clearly show that any amount of alcohol intoxication/impairment increases crash risk. And as BAC rises, crash risk rises accordingly. Researchers say that drivers with a BAC of 0.01 percent (or one-eighth the legal limit) are 46 percent more likely than sober drivers to cause a car accident.

These results create a problem for the criminal justice system. Judges, prosecutors and Americans in general tend to assign much more blame (and legal consequences) to drivers with a BAC at or above 0.08 percent than they would to a driver with a BAC of, say, 0.06 percent. According to these study results, however, both drivers are similarly dangerous despite the fact that one is technically under the legal limit.

Safety advocates have long been lobbying to lower the BAC limit in the U.S. to 0.05 percent or less, which would bring the U.S. in line with about 100 other countries around the world.

Even if this doesn’t happen, however, there are ways to hold buzzed drivers accountable for injurious or fatal car accidents. Victims and/or their families can often pursue personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits against drivers who were impaired by alcohol, even if their BAC was not high enough to be considered legally drunk.

Source: Claims Journal, “Even Very Low BAC Levels Associated With Causing Car Crashes,” Jan. 17, 2014

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