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Buzzed but not drunk? Study shows car accident risk is still high

Despite California’s strict laws against drunk driving, the rates of death and injury associated with driving under the influence remain tragically high. If you are a social drinker, chances are good that you would never knowingly put yourself or others at risk by driving legally drunk. That is, with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or higher.

But have you ever driven yourself home from happy hour or a party after having just a couple drinks? According to the results of a recent study, you might actually be at a higher risk of an auto accident than if you had no alcohol in your system. Research from U.C. San Diego reveals that despite the legal threshold of 0.08 percent, there is no “safe” BAC level when it comes to driving.

Researchers came to this conclusion after studying data on more than half-a-million fatal car accidents in the U.S. that occurred between 1994 and 2011. The researched attempted to determine the risks of “buzzed” driving, which means driving with a BAC of 0.01 to 0.07 percent.

They found that there is no transition point between safe and unsafe. Rather, drivers with a BAC of just 0.01 percent are 46 percent more likely than completely sober drivers to be involved in a car accident and to be “solely blamed” for the accident by investigators. From there, risk increases steadily along with BAC up to a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.24 percent (or three times the legal limit).

Until or unless fully autonomous cars become standard, it is unlikely that a social drinker can always manage to avoid driving after having some alcohol. But for the sake of safety, you may wish to follow a general rule that the less alcohol you consume, the safer your ride home will be.

Source: NBC San Diego, "Study: "Minimally Buzzed" Drivers Often Cause Fatal Crashes," Rory Devine and Monica Garske, Jan. 18, 2014

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