New research has found that motor vehicle accidents involving drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) below the legal limit of 0.08% accounted for as much as 15% of alcohol-related crash fatalities in the U.S. Of these deaths, 55% were people other than the drinking driver, and these accidents were more likely to lead to youth fatalities compared to crashes above the legal BAC limit.
Alcohol-involved car accidents remain a leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S. Most studies on auto crashes, and alcohol focuses on alcohol above the legal limit of 0.08%. Still, cognitive impairment may occur at all stages of drunkenness—even with a BAC as low as 0.03%. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have advised reducing the legal blood alcohol level for driving from 0.08% to 0.05%. In 2018, Utah became the first state in the U.S. to enact this law. Other countries have also adopted this limit already and have reported decreases in motor vehicle accidents.
According to research, a BAC of up to .05% is likely to cause feelings of well-being, relaxation, and confidence. A BAC of .05 to .08% places a person at risk of impaired judgment and lowered inhibitions.
Timothy S. Naimi, MD, MPH, Section of General Internal Medicine, Boston Medical Center, and Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA:
“Our study challenges the popular misconception that alcohol-involved crashes primarily affect drinking drivers, or that BACs below the legal limit don’t matter.”
The study examined sixteen years of U.S. auto crash data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System with the Alcohol Policy Scale. From 2000-2015, 37% of more than 600,00 motor vehicle fatalities occurred in crashes involving at least one driver with a positive BAC. Of these, 15% were from accidents involving drivers who tested below the legal alcohol limit.
This study found that more restrictive alcohol policies were associated with a 9% reduction in the likelihood that an accident involved alcohol at a level below the legal limit. This relationship was also consistent for multiple subgroups (e.g., only females) and at a blood alcohol cutoff of 0.05%.
“Lower alcohol crashes have been underestimated as a public health problem. Our research suggests that stringent alcohol policies reduce the likelihood of fatal accidents involving drivers with all levels of alcohol blood concentration.”
The research identified a number of approaches to policy that could result in a decrease in crash fatalities involving alcohol at all levels, including required keg registration, increased alcohol taxes, and the limited availability of alcohol in grocery stores.
Impaired Driving: The Facts
Each day, 29 people in the U.S. die in motor vehicle accidents that involve an alcohol-impaired driver, equating to one death every 50 minutes. The yearly cost of alcohol-related crashes totals over $44 billion. However, as noted, there are measures that can help prevent injuries and fatalities from alcohol-impaired driving.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2016, more than 10,000 people died as a result of alcohol-impaired driving accidents, accounting for 28% of traffic-related deaths in the U.S. Of the 1,233 traffic fatalities among children ages 0-14 years in 2016, 214 (17%) involved a driver who was legally impaired. Furthermoree, over one million people were arrested for drunk driving.
And yet, that’s just 1% of the 111 million self-reported incidents of alcohol-impaired driving among American adults each year.
Drugs other than alcohol (both legal and illicit) are involved in an estimated 16% of motor vehicle crashes. Marijuana use has been steadily increasing, and 13% of nighttime, weekend drivers are found to have marijuana in their system. Marijuana users were around 25% more likely to be involved in an accident than drivers with no evidence of marijuana use. However, other factors such as age may account for the increased crash risk among marijuana users.
Getting Treatment for Addiction
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer detox services as well as comprehensive, evidence-based treatment in both partial hospitalization and residential formats. Our programs are specifically tailored to each individual and intended to provide those we treat with all the tools, education, and support they need to recover from addictions to drugs or alcohol.
Additionally, we treat co-occurring mental health conditions and aim to address all the factors that contribute to substance abuse, including childhood trauma, abuse, or neglect. We understand that addiction does not exist in a vacuum, that it occurs in stages, and that it is a manifestation of a person’s need to self-medicate. No one should have to do this, and everyone should have access to proper mental health care.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, we urge you to contact us now and discover how we help people break free from the chains of addiction—one day at a time!