January 16, 2014
Study Confirms Minimally Buzzed Driving Just As Deadly As .08+
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Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Researchers writing in the journal Injury Prevention say that even just a little bit of alcohol could be causing fatal car crashes.
University of California, San Diego researchers studying accidents in the US say that “minimally buzzed” drivers are more often to blame for fatal car crashes than sober drivers. The team used the official US Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database for the study, which reports on the blood alcohol content (BAC) in increments of 0.01 percent.
The researchers focused on “buzzed driving” rather than drunk driving, which is considered as having a BAC of 0.01 percent to 0.07 percent versus 0.08 percent and above, respectively. The team found that drivers with a BAC of 0.01 percent are 46 percent more likely to be "officially and solely" to blame by accident investigators than sober drivers. They also determined that the chances of causing a wreck increases steadily and smoothly from BAC 0.01 to 0.24 percent, meaning that there is no sudden transition when comparing a buzzed driver to a drunk driver.
The study discovered that these buzzed drivers are not punished more severely than sober drivers, because even though the research indicates they are more likely to have caused a wreck due to their state the law says BAC of 0.07 percent and below is legal to drive.
UC San Diego sociologist David Phillips, who led the study, said that police, judges and the public at large treat BAC of 0.08 percent as a sharp, definitive, meaningful boundary, and they do not impose severe penalties on those below the legal limit.
"The law should reflect what official accident investigators are seeing,” Philips said in a statement.
The team looked at more than 50 drive factors coded in the FARS database, including unambiguous factors like driving through a red light or driving on the wrong side of the road. The analyses also takes advantage of a “natural experiment.”
"Because the two drivers collide in exactly the same circumstances and at exactly the same time, this natural experiment automatically standardizes many potentially confounding variables," including weather and roadway conditions,” the authors wrote in the journal.
Philips said there is no safe combination of drinking and driving, and no point at which it is harmless to consume alcohol and get behind the wheel of a car.
"Our data support both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's campaign that 'Buzzed driving is drunk driving' and the recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board, to reduce the legal limit to BAC 0.05 percent. In fact, our data provide support for yet greater reductions in the legal BAC,” Philips said in a statement.
The researcher added that although federal agencies are recommending reducing the legal BAC limit, there has been little research on the dangers of driving at low levels like 0.01 percent.
"We appear to be the first researchers to have provided nationwide evidence on traffic accidents caused by minimally buzzed drivers," he said.