The Case against Buzzed Driving

Driving while under the legal BAC limit

When Professor Emeritus David P. Phillips of UCSD recognized that there had been no "real-world traffic studies [that] have investigated whether minimally 'buzzed' drivers (BAC=0.01%) are more likely to be blamed for a crash than are the sober drivers they collide with," he began research into the subject. As many California drivers know, the legal limit for BAC is 0.08%, so a lot of people consider driving under that limit to be OK. A commonly heard refrain is, "Hey, I've only had only a couple of beers." The professor's findings are a real eye opener for all those who share the streets and highways with these buzzed drivers.

The extensive study utilized a national database of 570,731 fatal collisions that took place from 1994 to 2011. The focus of the study was the relationship between the driver's BAC and the degree to which he or she was assigned sole official blame for a traffic accident. Researchers found that even drivers with a BAC level as low as 0.01 are 46 percent more likely to be officially blamed for causing a crash as compared to the sober driver involved in the accident. These hard facts mean that "minimally buzzed" drivers - including those with a very low 0.01 blood-alcohol level, well below the legal limit of 0.08 - are often to blame for fatal car crashes.

The push to lower BAC limits

Many argue that the BAC legal limit needs to be lowered in light of studies like this one. Worldwide, more than 100 countries have their limits set at 0.05. Indeed, there are some countries with "zero tolerance" for blood alcohol while driving.

The push for a lower limit gained further federal support when in 2013 the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all 50 states adopt the 0.05 BAC standard in lieu of the 0.08 standard that is on the books today. The UCSD study adds ample support for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's campaign that "buzzed driving is drunk driving."

When research shows that drinking and driving at any blood-alcohol level is dangerous and associated with greater accident severity, the need for revisiting existing BAC laws becomes apparent.

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