How much alcohol can you drink before you exceed the legal limit, putting yourself and others in danger?
It is common for people to underestimate alcohol’s impact on their balance, speed, accuracy and reaction time behind the wheel, yet research shows that serious negative effects can result after as little as one or two drinks.
A drunk driving app “If I Drink…” helps people understand, in a visual, easy-to-understand way, just how severely alcohol affects their ability to drive safely.
The app isn’t just another blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) calculator. It provides a first-person virtual experience of riding a bike, driving a car or walking the line at different BAC levels, ranging from sober to extremely intoxicated.
After plugging in a few simple facts – including the type of alcohol, how many drinks are consumed in a specified period of time, weight, gender, and location — the app calculates the resulting BAC level and plays a short video of someone driving, biking or attempting the walk-and-turn field sobriety test at that BAC level. The app also describes the potential legal consequences based on current state law.
Because alcohol is a legal (over 21) and socially acceptable drug, its use is widespread. In fact, alcohol is the most frequently abused addictive drug in the U.S. It is also one of the most harmful. The World Health Organization recently reported that alcohol is the sole cause of nearly 80,000 deaths per year in certain North and Latin American countries.
Below are some of the effects of alcohol consumption, by BAC level, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Loss of judgment
- Declines in ability to perform two tasks at the same time and track a moving target
- Impaired judgment
- Reduced alertness, coordination and ability to track moving objects
- Difficulty steering
- Slowed response to emergency situations
.08 (the legal limit in the U.S.)
- Poor reaction time, balance, perception and muscle coordination
- Short-term memory loss
- Reduced ability to control speed and process information accurately
- Impaired judgment, reasoning, memory and self-control
- Slowed thinking and reaction time
- Poor coordination and self-control
- Difficulty maintaining lane position and braking appropriately
- Loss of balance
- Poor muscle control
- Significant impairment in attention, information processing and vehicle control
Drunk driving has a tremendous impact on individuals, families and communities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that one in three people, on average, will be involved in a drunk driving accident in their lifetime. In 2010, one person died every 51 minutes in alcohol-related driving accidents.
Not legally drunk, but still impaired
The simulated drinking videos in the “If I Drink…” app demonstrate the notable impact alcohol has on driving, not only in terms of swerving but also speed. Even before the car veers over the cones, users will notice a clear slowing down in an attempt to control the car.
People do not have to be legally intoxicated to suffer negative consequences from drinking alcohol. Even “buzzed drivers” who have BAC levels below the legal limit (.01 to .07) are more often found responsible for fatal car accidents than sober drivers. Researchers have found that drivers with a BAC level of just .01 are 46% more likely to be blamed for a crash than the sober individuals involved in the accident. Blame increases incrementally as drivers’ BAC levels rise.
Still, buzzed drivers often receive the same punishment as sober drivers — an injustice some researchers are trying to stop by supporting efforts to reduce the legal limit to .05. This strategy has already been adopted in more than 100 countries.
Driving isn’t the only risk. As demonstrated by the “If I Drink…” simulations, people who ride a bike under the influence have difficulty balancing, recognizing danger and navigating in traffic and are more likely to ride recklessly. In a study by Johns Hopkins University, researchers found that a .08 BAC raises a bicyclist’s risk of serious injury by 2,000%. Even at .02 (roughly one drink), cyclists were six times more likely to be injured. In some states, drunk bicyclists can also be ticketed and fined for riding under the influence.
Although many people feel confident that they won’t be penalized for having one or two drinks and then driving, research increasingly shows that there is no safe level of drinking and driving. Next time you’re planning to drink, check the “If I Drink…” simulated drinking app for information about the consequences you may face.