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It's the holiday season: Parties! Lights! Presents! And often, holiday events include a bevy of alcoholic beverages to accompany the cookies, pies and fruitcakes on the buffet. If you do enjoy a glass of wine, a beer or a mixed drink, don't get behind the wheel of your car or truck.
Maybe you didn't realize how potent Aunt Polly's punch or Uncle Emory's eggnog was, but that's no excuse: In Virginia, a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of just .08 is considered legally drunk―that means after one drink per hour, most people are considered too drunk to drive. However, even if you have a BAC lower than .08, you can still be arrested for driving while being alcohol-impaired. The best path is never to drive if you've had even one alcoholic beverage.
As Richmond personal injury attorneys and drunk driver accident lawyers, we take an in-depth look at exactly why driving after drinking alcohol is so dangerous. First, let's examine the physiological effects of alcohol.
How Does Alcohol Impact the Human Body?
Alcohol reduces the brain's functionality, impairing thought, reason and muscle coordination – all of which are critical to safe vehicle operation.
As a person consumes alcoholic beverages, alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream directly through the stomach and small intestine walls. It circulates in the bloodstream until it reaches the liver, where it accumulates until it can be metabolized.
A good rule of thumb is that the body can metabolize one standard drink per hour. That means one 1.5-oz. shot of liquor, one 12-oz. beer or one 5-oz. glass of wine. However, this is influenced by factors including your age, sex, rate of consumption, drink strength, body fat/muscle content, how much food you've eaten and medications you may be taking.
There isn't a fast way to sober up if you've had more than one drink in an hour. And, because different people have different metabolic rates, each individual processes alcohol at a different rate, so it may take much longer than an hour for your body to process a single standard drink.
To measure the level of alcohol in the blood—called Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)—the level of alcohol is calculated by the weight of the alcohol in a specific volume of blood. This is typically measured by using a breathalyzer, a device that calculates the amount of alcohol in a driver's breath. BAC can also be measured with a blood test.
At a BAC of just .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood, a driver's risk of causing a motor vehicle accident is exponentially increased. In all 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08 or higher. However, it's important to know that driving ability can be impaired at a lower level than .08. According to the National Transportation and Safety Administration, in 2016, alcohol-related crashes in which drivers had BACs between .01 and .08 killed 2,017 people in the United States.
Why Does Alcohol Impact Your Driving Ability?
Driving a car requires the coordinated use of your eyes, hands, feet and brain. To drive safely, your brain must be alert in order to control and coordinate your motions to react to roadway situations in real time. That's why drinking alcoholic beverages can so profoundly affect your driving skills.
Drinking alcohol can negatively impact:
- Reaction Time– Because it slows your reflexes, alcohol impairs your ability to react immediately to situations such as a car in front of you suddenly braking or a pedestrian stepping unexpectedly into the roadway.
- Vision– Alcohol impacts the visual center of the brain, slowing eye muscle function, impacting the ability to move your eyes and altering visual perception by causing blurry or reduced vision. Color perception and night vision may also be negatively affected.
- Tracking– Because your brain isn't functioning optimally after drinking alcohol, it can impair a driver's ability to judge a car's position on the road, the exact location of cars nearby and those oncoming, and can even cause drivers to misjudge where the center line is and miss road signs, some of which may warn of upcoming hazards.
- Concentration– Alcohol may cause a driver to become drowsy, decreasing his or her attention paid to the driving task.
- Comprehension– Rational decision making is impaired under the influence of alcohol, and can cause a driver to take risks that could potentially injure himself or herself and others in the vehicle or nearby vehicles.
- Coordination– Ever seen someone stumble when under the influence of alcohol? Impaired hand-eye-foot coordination can cause problems when a driver is behind the wheel, impairing his or her actions so that he or she can't drive safely.
The smart choice? Avoid driving after you've had even one adult beverage, and never get in the car with someone who has been drinking. In our modern world, there are so many options for getting home safely—including Uber, Lyft, taxis and public transportation. Don't risk permanently impacting your life or the lives of others by driving under the influence of alcohol.
If you have been injured at work or through the negligence of another individual or entity, contact us at (804) 999-9999 or or use the form below to connect with our legal team. We will fight to get you the justice you deserve.