Every day, many people drink and drive without seeing the harm it can cause. But does making it home safely or “getting away with it” make driving drunk a good decision?
No, it does not.
Choosing to drive yourself home when you are impaired by alcohol is putting not only your own life at risk but also those of anyone else on the road while you are driving.
And while 0.08 percent is the legal limit to drive in the United States, lower BAC levels can also impact your driving ability, meaning the best way to play it totally safe is to not drive if you’ve had anything to drink at all. Regardless of how well you can handle your alcohol, the fact is that if you drive with alcohol in your system, you are at a heightened risk for causing an accident, injury, and even death.
Alcohol has a substantial effect on a person’s judgment, coordination, reaction time, concentration, and vision, each of which you might imagine is pretty important when driving a car. The effect of alcohol on these skills puts you and others in danger of something bad happening.
In this post, we’re going to take a hard look at why drinking and driving is dangerous, to hopefully help motivate anyone reading to not get behind the wheel if they’ve been drinking.
5 Dangers of Drinking and Driving
1. Poor Judgment & Decision Making
As you might have heard before, alcohol plays a huge role in clouding judgement. Alcohol can impair your judgment to the point that you make bad decisions that you would not otherwise make, and would regret in the morning or when you sober up.
For example, when intoxicated, you may choose to drive home well beyond the legal drinking limit, or when you know you are feeling drunk and should not be getting behind the wheel. But the forces of wanting your own bed, not wanting to wait or pay for a ride, or the old adage of being “just around the corner” outweigh the smart and safe decision, so you get behind the wheel. This is a risky choice that puts you and others in danger, both legally and from physical harm caused by operating a motor vehicle when impaired.
Your loss of judgment when intoxicated can also leave you more prone to distraction when driving. You might try to text or watch something on your phone rather than focus on the road.
Even just a little bit of alcohol can influence your judgment and concentration, but there are so many things that need your undivided attention when driving that it isn’t worth the risk. You need to be able to stay in your lane, manage your speed, give the proper space and attention to other cars on the road, and obey traffic signals. Alcohol will significantly increase your chances of having an accident because of how much it can reduce your attention span.
Your judgment skills also play a big role in driving. You have to be able to judge distance needed to stop in time, or to make a turn without hitting anything. You have to be able to foresee and react to problems that may arise on the road, such as being cut off, encountering a sudden change in weather, or avoiding large pieces of debris in the road. Having a clear head helps your judgment by keeping you alert and aware of the conditions around you. Alcohol will impair this ability.
2. Slowed Reaction Time & Lack of Coordination
Having alcohol in your system will cause your body to react more slowly to certain situations. Since your reaction time is slowed, it will increase the likelihood of an accident because you won’t be able to respond to something happening as quickly as you would if you were sober. For instance, if someone stops short in front of you or cuts you off, you may run into the back of them rather than being able to think fast, brake, and avoid an accident.
Likewise, you may not be able to react in time to an animal running into the road, or worse, a pedestrian. A brain under the influence of alcohol will take longer to process the situation and react. This is compounded by the fact that alcohol makes you more susceptible to distracted driving.
Not only will you have slower reflexes, but being under the influence of alcohol will also affect motor skills such as your hand, eye, and foot coordination. These coordination skills are incredibly crucial for being able to safely drive a car, and if they are impaired, you will be putting yourself and others in danger.
You can tell your coordination has been impaired if you can’t seem to stand up straight, sway when standing, or have any difficulty when walking. You may even have a tough time getting into the car or putting your keys into the ignition. If your impairment has reached this level, you definitely should not be driving a car.
3. Decreased Vision
Being able to see clearly is massively important when driving, and excessive alcohol consumption can cause problems with your vision. Drinking may cause your vision to blur, or cause your eyes to move on their own. You may even partially lose control over your eye movement. This vision impairment can influence how you are able to judge the distance between your car and other vehicles or objects on the road.
You may even lose your peripheral vision, which plays a very important role in safe driving. In general, the more you’ve had to drink, the more impaired your vision may be. If you notice your vision is blurred, cloudy, or are having any eye-related issues during a night of drinking, do not get behind the wheel.
4. Increased Likelihood of Having an Accident
While traffic fatalities have been on the decline in recent years, there are still about 10,000 deaths caused by alcohol-related crashes each year in the United States. According to the CDC, alcohol plays a role in roughly one in every three motor vehicle deaths in this country.
While there are numerous warnings out there as well as raised education and public awareness on the dangers of drinking and driving, people are still getting behind the wheel of their cars while drunk, even in the face of stiffer penalties for doing so. Although drunk driving overall is down, it is still happening, and the thing is, even those on the road driving sober are at risk when there is someone out there driving impaired.
In the U.S., motor vehicle deaths are the leading killer of people under the age of 24, whether they are a driver or passenger. Alcohol is a factor in almost half of these fatal accidents.
All this goes to show that someone who is driving under the influence of alcohol is much more likely to cause an accident than someone who is not, although the sober person might get tangled up in the drunk driver’s wreck. The data also shows that the more alcohol you have in your system, the more likely you are to have an accident.
Drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.10 percent or higher are seven times more likely to be involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident than a driver who is sober. A driver with a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher raise their risk to a staggering 25 times more likely. And while these statistics show the inherent danger of driving well beyond the legal drinking limit, even being at, or below, this set limit does not mean you are in the clear.
Someone who has had a couple beers within an hour will have a BAC far below the 0.08 legal limit. However, they are still 1.4 times more likely to have an accident than a sober driver. This is because impairment begins long before a person reaches the 0.08 percent level. These skills can begin to deteriorate as soon as the person starts drinking, at levels as low as 0.02 BAC.
Even a BAC this low can lead to visual impairment and impaired judgment, which are two key factors in causing accidents. A person with a BAC this low will also have a declined ability to perform multiple tasks at the same time, a skill often needed while driving.
Therefore, having a legal limit for drunk driving of 0.08 percent creates a problem, because it sends the incorrect message that if you aren’t legally drunk, you are fine to drive. However, for many, this is not the case, and whether or not you are safe to drive depends on a number of individual factors.
In general, no one, regardless of their tolerance, should drive after consuming alcohol. This is the only way to protect yourself from the consequences of drinking and driving.
5. Potential Legal Ramifications of Drinking & Driving
As if being more at risk of causing death to yourself and others wasn’t enough, anyone who chooses to drink and drive is also putting themselves at risk for serious legal consequences.
If you are pulled over on the suspicion of impaired driving, the officer will ask you to perform field sobriety tests. If you fail these tests, which judge your motor skills and judgment, you may then be asked to perform a BAC test, usually with a breathalyzer. If you fail this test, you will be sent to the local precinct for a night in jail, and be charged with a DUI or DWI.
All states have increased the penalties for these infractions, and all violators will be arrested and charged accordingly. But what’s the difference between a DUI and DWI?
A DUI refers to “driving under the influence” of alcohol or drugs — in our case, alcohol. This is a crime that police can charge you with if they suspect that your driving is impaired and you fail a field sobriety test, as well as having a BAC over the legal state limit. You will then be prosecuted accordingly, with the first offense typically resulting in the loss of your license for a year, and requires your attendance in an alcohol abuse program, as well as probation.
Those with multiple DUI offenses will be prosecuted to the fullest ability of the law, varying by each state. These penalties will be much worse if you cause an accident while drunk, especially if there are any injuries or fatalities.
A DWI, or driving while intoxicated, refers to a crime police may charge you with if they suspect you are drunk. Just like a DUI, suspects will be given a field sobriety and breathalyzer test. The procedure and findings are the same; however, the main difference is that a DWI comes with much stiffer penalties. A DWI may result in jail time, loss of driver’s license for a lengthy period of time, and mandatory alcohol treatment programs.
Beyond the legal penalties, offenders will also be subject to substantial financial penalties. These costs may include towing and storage fees, legal fines, and attorneys fees. You may also be required to pay for DUI driver training on your own, and as a result of your DWI or DUI arrest, your insurance fees will skyrocket.
Beyond these consequences, you will also have to report your DUI or DWI on any job application that requests the information, and could possibly be unable to rent a car. You may also be denied entry into some other countries because of your alcohol-related conviction as well.
All in all, the dangers of drinking and driving far outweigh the reward of chancing that you’ll get home safely. Safely driving a car is difficult even when you are sober, but adding alcohol into the mix is putting your life and the lives of others on the road at risk. Make sure you make the right choice and don’t attempt to drive drunk.