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Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 5:20 EDT

No Safe Blood-Alcohol Content When It Comes To Driving

June 21, 2011

According to a new study, no amount of alcohol consumed is safe for driving.

University of California – San Diego sociologist David Philips and his team examined official data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).  The dataset includes information on all persons in the U.S. who were involved in fatal car accidents in the years 1994 to 2008.

The researchers used FARS because it is nationally comprehensive and covers all U.S. counties, all days of the week and all times of the day.

All the accidents included in FARS are severe.  But the authors looked at different levels of accident severity by examining the ratio of severe injuries versus minor ones.

“Accidents are 36.6 percent more severe even when alcohol was barely detectable in a driver’s blood,” Phillips said in a statement.

The team said that even with a blood-alcohol level of 0.01, there are 4.33 serious injuries for every non-serious injury versus 3.17 for sober drivers.

There are at least three mechanisms that help to explain this finding, Phillips said in a statement: “Compared with sober drivers, buzzed drivers are more likely to speed, more likely to be improperly seat-belted and more likely to drive the striking vehicle, all of which are associated with greater severity.”

The authors said the greater the blood-alcohol content, the greater the average speed of the driver and the greater the severity of the accident.

The team said the accident severity is significantly higher on weekends and in the summer months.  However, when the researchers standardized for a day of the week, the relationship between the blood-alcohol content and more dangerous car accidents also persisted.

“Up till now, BAC limits have been determined not only by rational considerations and by empirical findings but also by political and cultural factors,” Phillips said in a statement, citing as evidence that the U.S. national standard of 0.08 is relatively recent and that blood-alcohol content limits vary greatly by country.

“We hope that our study might influence not only U.S. legislators, but also foreign legislators, in providing empirical evidence for lowering the legal BAC even more,” Phillips said. “Doing so is very likely to reduce incapacitating injuries and to save lives.”

The study was published in the journal Addiction.

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