Drinking & Driving

Drinking and Driving

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

 ·         BAC is the amount of alcohol in the blood stream

 ·         A BAC level of 0.5 means that an individual has 0.5 g of alcohol in his/her body for every 1 litre of blood

 ·         Taking a standard drink of 10g of alcohol, BAC will generally increase by 0.2-0.3 for women and 0.1-0.2 for men for each standard drink

 ·         A BAC will generally decrease by approximately 0.2-0.1 per hour (¾ to 1 standard drink, or 8 g of alcohol per hour)

 ·         The BAC will increase sharply when alcohol is consumed on an empty stomach


Absorption and metabolism of alcohol

After an alcoholic drink is consumed, the alcohol is absorbed rapidly from the stomach and intestine into the bloodstream. The blood alcohol level after drinking a specific number of drinks depends on the rate of drinking and the rate at which it is broken down in the liver by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase or ADH. The capacity of the liver to break down alcohol is limited, so if the liver has to handle more alcohol than its capacity for break down, the remaining alcohol will circulate in the blood to other organs and tissues of the body, such as the brain. Alcohol usually starts to affect the brain within about 5 minutes of being swallowed.

Even small amounts of alcohol can influence the ability to drive, so the only safe advice is to avoid any alcohol if driving. The influence of alcohol on individuals varies depending on:

 1.       body weight

 2.       gender (men process alcohol faster than women)

 3.       how fast you drink

 4.       metabolism

 5.       age and/or

 6.       conditions under which alcohol is consumed (i.e. with or without food).

For example, a woman’s BAC generally increases higher than a man’s since women tend to be smaller and have more fat tissue per kg body and less body water compared to men. Consequently, alcohol is more concentrated in the woman’s blood consuming the same amount of alcohol as a man. In addition, women have less of the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol in their stomach and liver.

Because of the multitude of factors that affect BAC, it is very difficult to assess the own BAC or impairment. Alcohol steadily decreases a person’s ability to drive a motor vehicle safely. Listed below are some of the common negative consequences following the consumption of alcoholic beverages.


How alcohol affects driving


Many of the functions that are needed to drive safely are affected when alcoholic beverages are consumed: the brain takes longer to receive messages from the eye; processing information becomes more difficult; and instructions to the body's muscles are delayed resulting in slower reaction times.


Blurred and double vision can also occur, which means the ability to see things correctly while driving is reduced. Individuals are also more likely to take potentially dangerous risks behind the wheel if they've been drinking alcoholic beverages.


Consequences on the psychomotor functions of the driver:

 ·        Coordination and capacity to react decrease

 ·       Capacity to judge speed, distance and the relative position of the vehicle is affected

 ·       Capacity to follow a trajectory or to face an unexpected event is affected


Consequences on the vision of the driver:

 ·         Field of vision is reduced and peripheral vision is altered

 ·         Recovery of sight after a flash is delayed

 ·         Even with low alcohol levels in the blood, the capacity to see, follow, and accommodate objects is deteriorated


Consequences for behaviour and attitude:

 ·         Alcohol may alter driving behaviour and reactions may become aggressive or neglectful

 ·         It may induce feelings of over-confidence, which can give rise to reckless decisions

Driving while either intoxicated or drunk is dangerous and drivers with high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) are at greatly increased risk of car accidents, highway injuries and vehicular deaths. It is recommended not to drive when drinking. In most European countries, the limit is usually 0.5 g per 1 l of blood. For novice drivers, in some countries, limit is 0  g.

An updated and comprehensive international BAC limits table can be found on the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP) website. For more information and data on European Road Safety you can also visit the European Commission DG Mobility and Transport website.


The above summary provide an overview of the topic, for more details and specific questions, please refer to the articles in the database.

INTRODUCTION: The social influence on drunk driving has been previously observed in several countries. It is noteworthy, however, that the prevalence of alcohol in road fatalities is not the same in all countries. The present study aimed to explore whether cultural values and the number of roadside breath tests moderate the link between the perceived drunk driving of one's peers and self-reported behavior. METHODS: Based on the European survey SARTRE 4, the responses of 10,023 car drivers from 15 countries were analyzed. Two cultural values, "tradition" and "conformism," were identified as possibly being linked to social influence. Country scores for these values were taken from the European Social Survey. The number of random roadside breath tests per inhabitant was used…
OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the evidence base for the content of initiatives that the alcohol industry implemented to reduce drink driving from 1982 to May 2015. METHODS: We systematically analyzed the content of 266 global initiatives that the alcohol industry has categorized as actions to reduce drink driving. RESULTS: Social aspects public relations organizations (i.e., organizations funded by the alcohol industry to handle issues that may be damaging to the business) sponsored the greatest proportion of the actions. Only 0.8% (n = 2) of the sampled industry actions were consistent with public health evidence of effectiveness for reducing drink driving. CONCLUSIONS: The vast majority of the alcohol industry's actions to reduce drink driving does not reflect public health evidenced-based recommendations, even…
BACKGROUND: Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a significant public health issue. The likelihood someone will intervene to prevent DWI is affected by the characteristics of the individuals and the context of the potential driving scenario. Understanding such contexts may help tailor public health messages to promote intervening from those who are nearby to an intoxicated driver. OBJECTIVE: This systematic review investigates the behavior of those close to an intoxicated driver and factors associated with increasing the likelihood they will intervene in situations where driving while impaired may be likely. The review of the literature is guided by an orienting framework, namely the classic social psychology theory of decision-making proposed by Latane and Darley. RESULTS: Drawing upon this framework, the review…
BACKGROUND: Alcohol is often mixed with various nonalcoholic beverages. While consumption of food with alcohol will decrease peak breath alcohol concentrations (BrAC), recent evidence has suggested that mixing alcohol with diet beverages can result in higher BrAC when compared with mixing the same amount of alcohol with sweetened beverages. The purpose of this study was to examine this phenomenon using two different moderate alcohol doses. METHODS: Twenty participants (10 males) attended five sessions where they received 1 of 5 doses (0.91ml/kg vodka+3.64ml/kg of diet soda, 0.91ml/kg vodka+3.64 of regular soda, 1.82ml/kg vodka+7.28ml/kg diet soda, 1.82ml/kg vodka+7.28ml/kg regular soda, and a placebo beverage). BrAC was recorded repeatedly up to 180min after dose administration. RESULTS: Participants had significantly higher BrAC when the…
Except for Quebec, all Canadian provinces have introduced administrative laws to lower the permitted blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .05% or .04% for driving-or having the care of-a motor vehicle. Using linear mixed effects models for longitudinal data, this study evaluates the effect of administrative BAC laws on fatal alcohol related crashes and law enforcement patterns in Canada from 1987 to 2010. Results reveal a significant decrease of 3.7% (95% C.I.: 0.9-6.5%) in fatally injured drivers with a BAC level equal or greater than .05% following the introduction of these laws. Reductions were also observed for fatally injured drivers with BAC levels greater that .08% and .15%. The introduction of administrative BAC laws led neither to significant changes in the…
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