Drinking and Driving - What Are The Dangers?

The dangers of drinking and driving become very clear when you read the shocking statistics. Approximately one out of every three traffic deaths in the United States involves a drunk driver. Representing one death every 51 minutes, nearly 30 people die in traffic accidents involving a drunk driver every single day.

Drinking and Driving Dangerous Car Crash

With 88,000 alcohol-related deaths every year, alcohol abuse is the third highest cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drunk drivers got behind the wheel of a car around 112 million times in 2010. This means drunk drivers are probably sharing the US roads with us nearly 307,000 times every day.

In this article, I want to seriously convince you of the dangers of drinking and driving. I will share with you scientifically proven medical data about the physical effects of alcohol on the body. I'll explain why these effects are especially dangerous on someone driving a motor vehicle, and I'll lay out the heavy personal costs of drunk driving

Drinking and Driving Dangers: Article Overview:

  • Part 1: What Does it Mean to be Drunk?
  • Part 2: How Blood Alcohol Concentrations (BAC) Affect You and Your Driving
  • Part 3: DUI/DWI: The High Costs of Drinking and Driving
  • Part 4: Alcoholism Charges a Heavy Toll

Part 1: What Does it Mean to be Drunk?

Produced by fermenting yeast, sugars, and starches, alcohol is the active ingredient in beer, wine, and liquor. Also known as ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that affects every organ in the drinker's body. It is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream from the stomach and small intestine.

Once it is in the bloodstream, alcohol is metabolized (or we might say neutralized) by enzymes in the liver. However, the liver can not metabolize alcohol very quickly. This means that the effects of alcohol will be felt by the drinker according to how much is still circulating in the bloodstream. The intensity, and therefore risk of physical danger, depends on how much alcohol has been consumed. After excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed, the drinker becomes intoxicated, or "drunk".

When people are drunk they experience a loss of balance, slurred speech, and reduced reaction time. Blood vessels become dilated, resulting in a feeling of warmth, but this can lead to a rapid and dangerous loss of body heat, especially in very cold weather.

Just as drinkers frequently misjudge outdoor temperature due to the effects of alcohol, they are often fooled into believing that alcohol has no effect on them at all. Alcohol silently replaces logical reasoning with a bloated sense of confidence. Happily believing they are fine, this faulty judgment is usually to blame when a drunk person decides to drive.

Part 2: How Does Blood Alcohol Concentrations (BAC) Affect You and Your Driving?

As alcohol builds up in the blood faster than the liver can process it, it becomes concentrated in measurable levels, called Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). Although the drinker might believe he or she is fine while getting into a car to drive, 0.08 percent BAC is the US legal limit for drivers aged 21 years or older. 

This means that if you have a higher concentration than 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood, you can be charged with drunk driving if you get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, such as a car, truck, motorcycle, or even a boat.

According to the CDC, the following information indicates the ramping up of dangerous effects of BAC on you and your driving, and indicates the levels at which these effects are first noticed.

Blood alcohol concentration levels and effect on driving

BAC: 0.02%

Measurement: About 2 alcoholic drinks**

Typical Effects:

  • Some loss of judgment
  • Relaxation
  • Slight body warmth
  • Altered mood

Predictable Effects On Driving:

  • Decline in visual functions (rapid tracking of a moving target)
  • Decline in ability to perform two tasks at the same time (divided attention)

BAC: 0.05%

Measurement: About 3 alcoholic drinks**

Typical Effects:

  • Exaggerated behavior
  • May have loss of small-muscle control (e.g., focusing your eyes)
  • Impaired judgment
  • Usually good feeling
  • Lowered alertness
  • Release of inhibitio

Predictable Effects On Driving:

  • Reduced coordination
  • Reduced ability to track moving objects
  • Difficulty steering
  • Reduced response to emergency driving situations

BAC: 0.08%

Measurement: About 4 alcoholic drinks**

Typical Effects:

  • Muscle coordination becomes poor (e.g., balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing)
  • Harder to detect danger
  • Judgment, self-control, reasoning, and memory are impaired
  • Concentration
  • Short-term memory loss.

Predictable Effects On Driving:

  • Speed control
  • Reduced information processing capability (e.g., signal detection, visual search)
  • Impaired perception.

BAC: 0.10%

Measurement: About 5 alcoholic drinks**

Typical Effects:

  • Clear deterioration of reaction time and control.
  • Slurred speech, poor coordination, and slowed thinking.

Predictable Effects On Driving:

  • Reduced ability to maintain lane position and brake appropriately.

BAC: 0.15%

Measurement: About 7 alcoholic drinks**

Typical Effects:

  • Far less muscle control than normal.
  • Vomiting may occur (unless this level is reached slowly or a person has developed a tolerance for alcohol).
  • Major loss of balance.

Predictable Effects On Driving:

  • Substantial impairment in vehicle control, attention to driving task, and in necessary visual and auditory information processing

**BAC is based on a 160-lb. male drinking the specified number of standard-size drinks in the US in one hour. A standard drink is equal to 0.6 ounces (14.0 grams) of pure alcohol.

The following are standard drink sizes of various alcoholic drinks:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
  • 1.5 ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey
Drinking and Driving Dangers: Getting Arrested.

Part 3: DUI/DWI - The High Cost of Drinking and Driving.

In 2006, the CDC reported that excessive alcohol consumption cost the US $223.5 billion for that year. In addition, costs for alcohol-related traffic accidents exceed $59 billion every year. At the center of every alcohol-related traffic accident is a guilty drunk driver.

Cost of Drunk Driving

Prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law is just about the only option available for the US justice system to force drunk drivers to pay for the terrible damages they are inflicting on society. In most states, being charged with "driving under the influence" (DUI) is basically the same as being charged with "driving while intoxicated," but there can be considerable penalties for both.

DUI/DWI or Both - What is the difference?

DUI - "Driving Under The Influence" of alcohol or drugs is a crime which police can charge you with if they suspect your driving is impaired. Impaired driving is determined by a police officer who pulls you over and conducts a field sobriety test.

DWI - "Driving While Intoxicated", is a crime police can charge you with if they suspect you are drunk. Pulling you over, they will conduct a breathalyzer exam to check for a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher.

DUI/DWI Conviction Penalties***:

  • First offenses on either DUI or DWI carries a sentence of from three days to one year in jail.
  • Second offenses increase to anywhere from 10 days to one year.
  • Third offenses are sentenced from four months to five years.

***Prosecutors in most states tend to prefer the solid, scientific result of the breathalyzer or a blood alcohol test for BAC. However, in some states it is possible to be charged with both DUI and DWI.

Cost of Drinking and Driving: Arrested

The costs of a DUI, DWI, or both can be enormous. There are immediate costs, including towing and storing your car, legal fines, and attorneys fees. Time in jail, representing lost time on the job, is followed by DUI driver training which you must pay for, and finally, insurance fees will be substantially higher for quite some time into the future.

A few more considerations should also be kept in mind. Following a DUI or DWI conviction, you must report this on any job application you fill out that requests this information. You may find yourself unable to rent a car after a drunk driving conviction, and some foreign countries may deny you the right to cross their border due to an alcohol-related conviction, as well.

Part 4: Alcoholism Charges A Heavy Toll

The financial costs of drinking and driving are very significant. However, the personal costs of excessive alcohol consumption can be incredibly higher because alcohol's dangers extend far beyond drinking and driving. Alcohol addiction forces its victims to pay a heavy toll in all walks of life, not just on the road home from the bar.

Using alcohol for a long time can seriously damage your health. Every organ in your body can be negatively affected, including your brain. Alcoholics face a higher risk of suffering stroke, certain cancers, and liver diseases, such as cirrhosis. If you drink alcohol quickly in very large amounts, you can fall into a coma and die. Alcohol abuse damages families, friendships, work relationships, careers, finances, and emotional stability.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that approximately 17 percent of men and 8 percent of women will be dependent on alcohol in their lifetime. But, this figure doesn't even begin to calculate how many other lives are endangered and/or negatively affected in every alcoholic's social circle.

Dangers of Drinking and Driving: Hand over your keys

Help Is Available!

If you or a loved one needs help escaping from the dangerous grip of alcoholism, please don't hesitate another moment. There are many great options for free or low-cost alcohol rehab services available. 

All The Best,

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Marco Sterling

I am a former mid-level advertising executive who had the unfortunate experience with drug and alcohol abuse. My experience nearly ruined my life, but in going through that I realized how precious life really is. My aim is to help many people that are going through what I went through and I hope you find the value in the resources provided through this site.