It is a common fact that alcohol, even at extremely low rates, greatly increases the risk of deadly car crashes. In a recent study that examined 570,700 fatal traffic crashes in the U.S. between 1994 and 2011, the focus is placed on drivers with a blood alcohol level from 0.01 to 0.07 percent. The report found that drivers with the blood alcohol level of 0.01 percent were 46 percent more likely to be involved in a crash than sober drivers.
“We find no safe combination of drinking and driving – no point at which it is harmless to consume alcohol and get behind the wheel of a card,” said David Phillips, a University of California San Diego sociologist that led the study.
However, law enforcement officers, judges, and the general public treat the widely-accepted blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent as “a sharp, definitive, meaningful boundary,” and do not impose harsh penalties of drivers with alcohol levels below that.
“Our data support both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s campaign that ‘Buzzed driving is drunk driving’ and the recommendation made by the National Transportation Safety Board, to reduce the legal limit to [blood alcohol level] 0.05 percent,” Phillips said. “In fact, our data provide support for yet greater reductions in the legal [blood alcohol level].”
The study further finds that “no sudden transition from blameless to blamed” at the legal limit for drunk driving. Instead, the research shows the blame for accidents increases steadily from drivers with a BAC of 0.01 to 0.24 percent.
“I would say if public policy were determine entirely by scientific evidence, the data justifies not having any alcohol in you at all while driving,” he said. “But, since public policy is determined not just by scientific data, but cultural factors, the compromise position may be to lower blood-alcohol content to 0.05 like most of Europe.”
Philips says that it is common knowledge that drivers do worse on test in the lab when they drink a beer or glass of wine. However, his study also shows that having just one drink, no matter how small, has a definite impact on traffic collisions.
“There is no blood-alcohol content so low that it is safe to drive,” Phillips told NBC 7 San Diego.
Philips has been a huge proponent of lowering the BAC level, and with his extensive, groundbreaking research makes a very convincing case. Though opposed widely from beverage advocate groups, some common ground will come out of this research.