Drunk driving has increased among college students over the past few years. This is according to a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). An estimated 2.8 million drove while under the influence of alcohol in 2001, compared to 2.3 million in 1998.
You should always question whether it is safe to drive after consuming any amount of alcohol. Impairment can begin long before a person reaches the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level necessary to be guilty of drunk driving. In all 50 states, the legal limit for drunk driving is a BAC level of .08. A 120-pound woman can reach a .08 BAC level after only two drinks and a 180-pound man can be at .08 after only four drinks. A drink is considered one shot of liquor, a five-ounce glass of wine, or one beer. Impairment begins with the first drink. It is important to note that the effects of alcohol intoxication are greatly influenced by individual variations among users. Some users may become intoxicated at a much lower BAC than others. Driving under the higher levels of impairment seems an impossibility, but you commonly see DUI arrests with these extreme BACs.
At the .02 BAC level, people exhibit some loss of judgment, begin to relax, and feel good. Drivers at the .02 level experience a decline in visual functions. This can affect their ability to track a moving object. They also experience a decline in the ability to perform two tasks at the same time. These changes may be very subtle or barely noticeable at this level.
At the .05 BAC level, people begin to exhibit exaggerated behavior, experience loss of small-muscle control, have impaired judgment, have lowered alertness, and a release of inhibition. When driving, a person with a .05 BAC would be operating the vehicle with reduced coordination, a further diminished ability to track moving objects, difficulty in steering, and a reduced response in emergency situations. The person may experience intensified emotions.
.08 is the level of legal intoxication. Drivers will experience poor muscle coordination, affecting their balance, speech, vision, reaction time and hearing. They will find difficult to detect danger. They will also exhibit impaired judgment, self-control, reasoning ability, and memory. Drivers will also find it more difficult to concentrate, judge the speed of the vehicle, experience reduced information processing capability, and exhibit impaired perception. You will probably believe that you are functioning better than you really are.
Drivers will experience significant impairment of motor coordination and loss of good judgment Speech may be slurred. Balance, vision, reaction time, and hearing will be impaired. The person may experience euphoria.
Drivers will experience gross motor impairment and lack of physical control. They will experience blurred vision and major loss of balance. Euphoria is reduced and dysphoria (anxiety, restlessness) starts to appear. Judgment and perception are severely impaired.
Dysphoria predominates. Nausea may appear. The drinker has the appearance of a “sloppy drunk”.
Feeling dazed, confused, or otherwise disoriented. May need help standing or walking. May not feel pain. May experience nausea or vomiting. Gag reflex is impaired and you can choke if you do vomit. Blackouts are likely.
All mental, physical, and sensory functions are severely impaired.
Stupor. You have little comprehension of where you are. You may pass out suddenly and be difficult to awaken.
Coma is possible. This is the level of surgical anesthesia.
Onset of coma. Possible death due to respiratory arrest.
In some states drivers can be arrested for driving while impaired even if their blood alcohol concentration is lower than the legal limit, if the law enforcement officer believes he has probable cause based on the behavior and reactions of the driver. Bottom line, it is not wise to get behind the wheel if you’ve had anything to drink. The only safe driving limit is .00 percent.
So, what fate awaits these drunk drivers? Penalties for DUI, even the first offense, have been increased due to the efforts of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). Many states have passed Administrative License Revocation (ALR) laws, which allow the arresting officer to take the license of drivers who fail or refuse to take a breath test. All states have passed Zero Tolerance laws which prohibit drivers under 21 from having any measurable amount of alcohol in their blood system. The penalties have increased for drinking and driving, especially for repeat offenders. Many state legislatures have passed laws requiring mandatory jail time for repeat DUI convictions. The fines have gotten larger, the length of license suspension has gotten longer, and getting a “hardship” license just to go back and forth to work is getting more difficult.
Despite all the warnings, public awareness, educational programs, and stiffer penalties, people still get behind the wheel of their vehicles while intoxicated. Motor vehicle wrecks are the leading cause of death in the United States for persons under age 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those deaths, more than 40% are alcohol-related. Alcohol-related accidents are so prevalent; an estimated 40% of all persons in the United States will be involved in a traffic mishap blamed on alcohol at some point in their lives.
To combat drunk driving, use a designated driver. A designated driver is simply a person who agrees to abstain from alcohol and be responsible for driving others home. The others are free to drink as they choose. Many establishments provide free non-alcoholic beverages to designated drivers. Each year over 73,000,000 Americans either serve as a designated driver or are driven home by one. Above all else, don’t ever let your friends drive after drinking. Take away their keys, have them stay the night, call a cab, or do whatever else is necessary – just don’t let them drive.
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