Research: Drivers with low BAC levels may still be dangerously impaired

Two studies suggest that noticeable impairment can occur well below the legal BAC limit, and older drivers may be especially vulnerable.

Many people in Atlanta know that drivers who are legally intoxicated show marked performance impairments. At the same time, many people may believe that drivers with blood alcohol content levels below the legal limit of .08 percent are essentially sober and unlikely to cause accidents. In reality, buzzed driving may be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Recent research shows that drivers can be noticeably impaired even at low, legal BAC levels.

Greater fatal accident risk

One study from the University of California, San Diego, found that a BAC level as low as .01 percent may affect a person's driving ability, according to Fox News. Researchers surveyed 570,731 deadly two-car accidents that occurred across the nation over a 17-year period. They found that drivers with a BAC level of just .01 percent were 46 percent more likely than sober drivers to be exclusively, officially blamed by professional accident investigators.

The researchers also found that a driver's likelihood of being blamed for a fatal accident increased steadily with BAC level. Based on these findings, researchers concluded that driving at any BAC level should be considered unsafe. Furthermore, a lower legal limit, such as the limit of .05 percent that the National Transportation Safety Board proposed in 2013, could offer significant safety benefits for motorists.

Age may play a factor

A second study suggests that age has a direct correlation to the effects of alcohol on drivers, even at moderate BAC levels. According to The Minnesota Post, University of Florida researchers used a simulator to test the driving performance of adults in two age groups. The participants performed the simulation once while sober and once after drinking a cocktail or a placebo. The cocktails were designed to bring each individual's BAC level to .04 percent or .065 percent.

After one cocktail, the drivers in the older group, whose ages ranged from 55 to 70, showed impairments that the younger drivers did not. They had trouble keeping up a consistent speed and steering responsively. This is troubling because the simulation was simpler than real-life driving and because none of the drivers were even legally intoxicated. This suggests that older drivers may exhibit significant performance impairments in more challenging situations or after consuming more alcohol.

Addressing alcohol-related accidents

Accidents involving drivers who are not legally intoxicated may affect many people in Georgia this year. In 2012 alone, there were 9,041 reported crashes in the state that involved drivers with BAC levels greater than .01 percent, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. These accidents resulted in 5,700 injuries.

In many cases, the victims of intoxicated driving accidents may be able to seek compensation from the responsible driver, even if the driver's BAC level was below the legal limit. Accident victims may benefit from consulting with an attorney to better understand their legal rights.

Keywords: drunk driving, accident, injury