What is Drinking and Driving (DUI)?

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Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 1/16/2022

Drinking and driving (DUI) happen when someone consumes alcohol and operates a vehicle. DUIs are given out when someone's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeds the legal limit. In most states, the legal limit is between .06 and .08% BAC. That said, some states do have zero-tolerance laws and people under the age of 21 (in the United States) abide by zero-tolerance laws as well. 

What are the Dangers of Drinking and Driving? 

Drinking and driving are dangerous because of alcohol's effects on the body. Things like a lack of coordination make it easier for people to lose control of vehicles and cause accidents.

Some other risks of alcoholism that make drinking and driving dangerous include:

  • A lack of coordination 

  • Decreased vision

  • Slow reaction time

  • Reduced concentration 

  • Inhibited judgment

These factors increase the risk of causing an accident and death when driving heavy machinery.

1. Lack of Coordination 

When drinking alcohol coordination becomes impaired. The more alcohol consumed the worse symptoms will be. A lack of coordination includes changes in someone's ability to perform small motor movements, being unbalanced, having the "spins" (feeling like the room is spinning), and trouble with hand-eye coordination.

When someone is driving with a lack of coordination it's hard to control a vehicle. Vehicles require a lot of effort to drive because of things like the steering wheel and controlling the speed the vehicle is moving. Without coordination, driving is challenging and dangerous.

2. Decreased Vision 

Drinking alcohol can cause vision to get blurry or cause things like "the spins," which occurs when your eyes make it seem like the world around you is spinning. Alcohol-induced blurred vision is also an issue that makes it challenging to walk, stand upright, drive, and complete otherwise simple tasks.

Decreased vision while behind the wheel of an automobile is extremely dangerous. People need their eyes to drive and without them working well it's harder to see obstacles in the road, other drivers, stop lights and stop signs and other important things you need to see to drive safely.

3. Slow Reaction Time 

Drinking alcohol slows reaction time. When alcohol enters the bloodstream it has a depressant effect on the central nervous system (CNS). This means that alcohol slows down the rate at which neurotransmitters fire. The result is having a slower reaction time to events, objects coming towards you, and more. In fact, this is often the reason why many Drunk drivers end up less injured in car accidents. Their muscles never tense up because of the slow reaction time, which helps their body go with the flow of the accident and absorb some of the shocks.

Having a slow reaction time will make driving challenging and dangerous. People who are impaired by alcohol won't be able to react fast to things that occur on the road (like switching lanes or sharp turns) and any objects on the road that pose a threat pose even more of a threat to someone who's impaired by alcohol.

4. Reduced Concentration 

Consuming large amounts of alcohol makes it challenging to concentrate. Reduced concentration occurs at low amounts of alcohol intake but it lasts for a long period and gets worse with higher amounts of alcohol consumption. Having reduced concentration makes it challenging to focus, hold conversations, and focus on surroundings.

When driving, having reduced concentration is not good. Driving requires a lot of concentration as the brain and eyes need to process information quickly when vehicles travel at high speeds. Having reduced concentration makes it hard to focus on the road and causes drunk drivers to drift into other lanes or even opposing traffic.

5. Inhibited Judgement

Alcohol consumption inhibits judgment. It causes people to make worse decisions, take more risks, and act out of character. Having a lack of judgment can lead to many issues behind the wheel of a car. Some examples include driving at risky speeds (100+ mph), taking aggressive turns, and being more aggressive on the road.

That said, inhibited judgment leads to many drunk driving accidents. Taking risks when drunk and behind the wheel of a vehicle is dangerous and can cause many issues like car accidents, some of them being fatal. 

The best way to avoid making poor choices behind the wheel is to not drink and drive.

What are the Consequences of Drunk Driving?

Driving drunk has several consequences if you get pulled over and caught by a police officer. These legal consequences can change the life of the driver and make it difficult to drive again for many years.

The consequences for drunk driving include:

  • Driver's license suspension

  • Driver's license being revoked 

  • Driver's needing to drive with a conditional license

  • Time in jail 

  • Time in prison if involved in a fatal accident

  • Fees and fines 

  • High insurance premiums 

  • Forced participation in drunk driving courses

  • Forced participation in Alcoholics Anonymous groups 

  • Community service

These are only a handful of the consequences someone can experience when arrested for drunk driving. The consequences and laws vary by state.

What are the Statistics about Drunk Driving? 

Drunk driving has many alarming statistics. These numbers and situations prove how dangerous drunk driving is and why there are laws against it. To provide context we have several key drunk driving statistics below:

  • Drunk driving kills about 28 people per day (excluding drinking holidays like the 4th of July)

  • 10,000 people die each year from drunk driving, one person every 52 minutes 

  • Drinking and driving costs over 40 million dollars in damages and deaths every year 

  • In the most recent year, about 230 children died in drunk driving-related accidents 

  • 27% of all alcohol-related accidents occur within the 21-24 age group

  • Men are involved in 4 times the amount of drunk driving accidents

  • Texas, California, and Florida have the highest rates of alcohol-related driving deaths

While these are some of the key statistics about drunk driving, there are thousands of metrics used to display how dangerous drunk driving is.

How Blood Alcohol Content Levels Affect Driving 

Blood alcohol content (BAC) is the amount of alcohol that's in someone's blood. The amount of alcohol in someone's blood is what determines how intoxicated they'll feel. Low levels of BAC don't produce much of an effect aside from feeling happy and a bit more social, while high levels of BAC cause drastic changes. For example, high blood alcohol content levels cause people to vomit, lose consciousness, and more.

1. BAC of .02 

At .02 BAC there aren't many notable changes within the body. During this phase, people may begin to feel "buzzed." Feeling buzzed is the typical sensation of happiness, being more socially loose, and more receptive to positive emotions. Driving at .02% BAC causes people to have less control over visual tracking (watching fast objects) and the ability to do two things at once (multi-tasking) decreases.

2. BAC of .05 

At .05% BAC things get more serious. People begin to lose control of their coordination and muscles (in a small capacity) and may express mood changes. These mood changes can be either pleasant or aggressive. For driving, a BAC of .05% increases the reduction in the ability to track movement. The loss of muscle control also makes it harder to properly control the steering wheel. At this stage, there will also be less of a response to objects on the road.

3. BAC of .08 

A BAC of .08% is the legal limit for driving in most states. Anything over this amount causes someone to become liable for driving under the influence charge. At .08% speech becomes impaired, balance is flawed, and fine motor skills decline. During this phase, people will swerve, have less reaction time, and have higher risk-taking behavior. .08% BAC is when buzzed driving becomes drunk driving.

4. BAC of .10 

A BAC of .10% is when serious problems occur for people, even when they're not behind the wheel. At this BAC level waking and standing upright becomes challenging. Fine motor skills are significantly impaired and vision can become blurry. When behind the wheel, this makes it hard to see, orient the vehicle, and make sudden movements to avoid other drivers or obstacles. Decision-making also becomes questionable at this BAC level.

5. BAC of .15 

At a BAC of .15%, people begin to lose control of their bodies. Slurred speech and balance decline further and the chances of vomiting and nausea increase. Driving a vehicle with this BAC level is likely to cause an accident and loss of consciousness can occur behind the wheel. When someone has a BAC level in this range they're closer to alcohol poisoning and the dangerous side effects that come with it.

What are the Drinking and Driving Laws? 

Legally, drunk driving is referred to as operating a motor vehicle or other heavy machinery (even bicycles) while impaired by alcohol consumption. When drivers are over the age of 21 the legal limit is .08% BAC. This means that if someone has a .08% BAC level or higher they can be charged for driving under the influence. For drivers who are under the age of 21, there is zero-tolerance. In most states, this range varies from 0 to .02% BAC.

Other countries also have similar laws. Many counties also use .08% as the legal limit, like England, whereas other countries like Iran have zero tolerance. Depending on where you live and how old you are it's important to understand the laws surrounding drinking and driving.

Can You Drink Non-alcoholic Beer While Driving? 

Yes, you can drink non-alcoholic beer while driving. Non-alcoholic beer is a unique type of beer that shares the same taste and texture as beer but it doesn't have the same alcohol content. While beer has an alcohol content of at least 4% alcohol by volume (ABV), non-alcoholic beer has an ABV of around .03% ABV. One example is the Heineken 0.0, which has less than .03% ABV.

Drinking a non-alcoholic beer while driving won't lead to you getting arrested for a DUI. That said, it can increase the chances of being pulled over by police officers and being questioned by police officers. Therefore, we don't recommend drinking non-alcoholic beer and driving.

Drunk Driving and Addiction Treatment 

Drunk driving causes many problems for the driver and people impacted by the driver. If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol abuse disorder (AUD), finding treatment before drunk driving occurs is important. There are many ways to find treatment but some are more effective than others.

The best methods for alcohol addiction treatment vary based on individual needs. The common methods are:

  • Outpatient treatment

  • Intensive outpatient treatment

  • Partial hospitalization

  • Inpatient treatment

  • Faith-based healing

  • Holistic treatment

  • Hypnotic treatment 

  • Alcoholics Anonymous groups 

  • Therapy

These treatment methods are all effective and viable options. The type of treatment needed depends on how long someone's been addicted to alcohol, how severe withdrawal symptoms are, how old someone is, and if someone has obligations that need to be handled during treatment. 

Drunk driving causes many accidents each year, in fact, drunk driving is responsible for about 33.3% of all car accidents in the United States. That said, many alcohol stats highlight how dangerous alcohol-related driving is.

These include:

  • Per 100,000 people the drunk driving fatality rate is 3.2%

  • There were 1,233 traffic deaths among children in 2016 and 17% were caused by drunk driving

  • Drugs (other than alcohol) are involved in 16% of motor accidents

Drunk driving causes thousands of accidents each year and claims the lives of many people. For this reason, it's important to avoid driving while under the influence of alcohol.

Author
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Thomas Roth
Lead Editor

Thomas has been working in the substance abuse industry for over 3 years and he's made it his mission to help those in need. Tom started out by writing content to help people find addiction treatment centers near their location. Once he understood the value in the words he wrote Tom shifted to outreach, editing, and content creation. If nothing else, Tom wants to see those who struggle with Alcohol abuse disorder recover.